Turn, Turn, Turn

4Dec

John the Baptizer was a very scary dude in a very scary place.

First, there was his appearance. His clothes were made from camel hair. I don’t think Matthew is describing the soft, stylish men’s camel hair sport coat you can buy in a fine clothing store. I think he’s thinking more like the stinky, dirty hair off a real camel! He pulled his outfit together with a leather belt which, I am certain, was not finely crafted Italian leather. It was more like a strap or rope. John  was not a GQ icon.

Secondly, there was his behavior. At least he wasn’t a vegan. His diet did consist of locusts, which, are considered an animal. I doubt locusts were considered a delicacy, but they must have been plentiful. I can’t imagine where he found honey in the Judean desert! And then there was his voice. He only had an outside voice which he used at full volume and high intensity. He felt his message was urgent, of life or death, and he wanted to be heard above the fray. He shouted.

That brings us to his location. The Judean desert is just east of Jerusalem. It’s a dry, harsh, mountainous wilderness that remains sparsely populated. Its rugged landscape was a great place for rebels and hermits to hang out. It wasn’t the sort of place you’d take your family for a summer picnic.

Finally, there was his message. He’s out in the middle of nowhere, shouting at the top of his lungs,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

Amazingly, people from everywhere – from Jerusalem and all of Judea, even all the region along the Jordon – not only flock to hear him shout at them, but to confess their sins and then subject themselves to his particular brand of baptism: a baptism of repentance.

Welcome to the second week of Advent. Where our focus for week one was to watch and wait, the focus for this week is to turn and change. We’re not done with scary John the Bapitzer yet.

In the meantime, you might ponder who would leave the safety of their homes and neighborhoods to a place of insecurity and discomfort to hear this scary man shout at them and compel them to confess their sins and turn away from their old way of life? Would you?

In case you’re wondering where I got this crazy story, here’s the passage from Matthew that we’re going to be considering this week:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

 

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

 

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

 

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” ~ Matthew 3:1-12

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