As I dwell on it, I’m caught in the middle because I’m no John the baptizer. I don’t have the gift and won’t even try. I want to see life after 70. I’m super nice, playing safe, working hard to be warm, accommodating, friendly, inviting and do all the best I can to make people feel at home because as a small town/time Priest, I’m wearing different hats. Fire and brimstone isn’t my style. I put humor and make worship entertaining by the quality of service rendered because I want them back next Sunday. I can’t handle preaching in an empty pew. As I look around, I’m more concerned with welcoming fallen-away, non-practicing marginalized Catholics back in the fold than pro-choice Catholic politicians.
“But when he saw many of the 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 that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to 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 he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”Mt. 3: 7-12
John’s preaching challenges deeply held beliefs and age-old assumptions that baptism into Christ renders free ticket to heaven without any sort of effort. Just because you are a Catholic, you’re saved. Salvation through religious affiliation may come in handy but isn’t automatic. His words call us to repentance, compel us to confess our sins, double check and thoroughly examine the inner life regularly. The church’s notion of preparation for Christmas stands in huge tension with society at large. As we approach the holidays, we’re asked to bask in things eternal and heavenly and the wonder of the unknown and not get stuck with hanging twinkling Christmas lights and gazing at the enormity of marked down prices.
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord.”Isa. 11:6-9
It’s a time when the predator and the preyed feast and rest together, when the GOP and the Dems work in unity to advance American’s interest and not the party’s agenda, when the Sun Devils and Wildcats share a meal and laughter, when people of all denominations and faith traditions come and worship the divine, when heartbreaks are healed and family animosities written off. If the Prophet’s vision fleshes out and comes true, then, the God, he and John were talking about has arrived in our midst. But, unless conversion of our hearts takes the centerfold, a new era won’t usher in. Amen.