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 axe 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.”
In this holy season of Advent, as we prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas, John the Baptist has words of advice and warnings for each one of us.
He advises us to “prepare the way of the Lord,” by true repentance of our past sins and a firm resolution to straighten “the ways of the Lord,” that is not to deviate from the true Christian way of life in the future.
Please God. None of us deserves the reproaches he addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees, but most of us perhaps can find traces of some predominant vices in our innermost selves. The pride and self-righteousness of the Pharisees ruined their otherwise good lives. The worldliness of the Sadducees made them lose interest in the future life, until they went so far as to deny any future existence after death.
Of these two vices, that of the Sadducees is the more prevalent today, and it is to be found in the best of us, in a greater or lesser degree. While all true Christians repudiate atheistic its denial of the existence of God and of a future life, many become so immersed in the things of this world that they have no time or thought for the world that is to come. While theoretically, they reject atheism they themselves, like the brood of vipers of whom the Baptist spoke, are full of the poison of materialism, and are injecting this poison into those whom they influence.
A sincere examination of our outlook on life and death, and of our way of life up to today, will tell us how we stand in relation to Christ. Let each one of us ask himself/herself: if Christ, for whose coming as the Divine Babe of Bethlehem we are preparing, were to come to him before Christmas as his just judge, how would he/she fare? Would he/she be gathered with the wheat into the granary, or be bundled with the chaff into the unquenchable fire? Each one of us has the decision in his/her own hands. We can, by true repentance, change ourselves from chaff into wheat, but once we draw our last breath, not even the infinitely merciful God can do that for us. Amen.