"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come!” --John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7)
In an “I’m OK, you’re OK” world, where many believe it is their responsibility and right to define their own “truth,” claim their own journey, and decide for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong, John the Baptist’s words in the wilderness can sound kind of harsh. His judgmental call to repentance can seem old fashioned and out of touch. After all, Jesus is all about love and grace and forgiveness and mercy. So, shouldn’t we focus there? Even John points beyond himself to the coming one who will be more powerful than he is. And yet, every year, during this season of watching and waiting we call “Advent,” we hear again about John crying out in the wilderness.
Maybe it’s because, even today, there is a part in all of us that really needs to hear John’s call to repentance (literally “turn back”). Maybe there is a viper in all of us that refuses to be tamed that we need to come to terms with before we can truly grasp and be grasped by the power of God’s grace in our lives.
We know that there is brokenness in the world. It’s easy to point to the “Pharisees and the Sadducees” of our world and say, “Look at them! The vipers!” But, it can be a lot harder to look in the mirror and see the vipers in our own souls. It’s easier to get defensive and say, “no, not me!” But, if we are honest with ourselves, we know there is brokenness in us too. We can’t avoid it. The brokenness of the world taints us. The systems and structures we participate in every day warp us and twist us and break us in ways we sometimes don’t even realize. It’s unavoidable. There is a part in all of us that can be mean, judgmental, prejudiced, uncaring, and unsavory. There is a part in all of us that really doesn’t want to repent – to turn our lives over to God -- and to live with the kindness, compassion, servanthood, mercy, forgiveness, generosity and love that God calls us to. That’s true even if we manage keep that broken part hidden behind a curtain of niceness most of the time.
Well, welcome to the viper pit!
Years ago, my preaching professor said that when we preach, we need to make sure that what we preach “necessitates Christ.” That is, our preaching needs to make it clear that we, and the whole world, needs the one born in the manger and who died on the cross. That only one with the power of God can heal the brokenness we carry and endure. Only one who wields the grace, forgiveness and love of God can rescue us from the viper pits we fall (jump?) into and give us the life we yearn for and seek in this crazy world of ours.
Romans 5:6 is one of my favorite bible verses: “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” That is, Christ died for all of us while we were still in the viper pit. We don’t have to slither out on our own… because we can’t. That’s the truth the fiery preaching of John the Baptist reminds us of each year as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the One John says will “baptized us with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus Christ our Lord.
Consider your own brokenness and need for Christ. How might Christ be at work in your life to lift you out of your pit of vipers?
Thanks for reading.