Once beyond Bahurim, there is an 18 mile journey on the Wilderness “Path of Defeat” where the only sign of human life I saw was the remains of this tank from the six day war in June 1967.
Across this path, the five Pharisees were sent by the high priest and temple officials to meet the man preaching in the wilderness.
They quickly discovered the man they had come to challenge was a man whose very presence and appearance demanded attention. They may follow him or challenge him - but they could not ignore him. He and his message dominated the Wilderness “Path of Defeat” in which he preached.
The Pharisees were well acquainted with Isaiah's words of prophecy and knew The Messiah's Coming would be preceded by the voice of one calling in the wilderness, but the Pharisees looked to powerful priests and pious Pharisees as the truly appropriate people to proclaim God's authentic Word. True, John was a son of priests and therefore, by descent, a priest in every sense of the word. They did not question the authenticity of his priesthood - they questioned his style and refusal to follow the high priest's company line and to make the temple area the place for his prophetic pulpit.
But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'. I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.“
The Pharisees were people of God - and people of God are truly special people – but, as Advent so powerfully proclaims, we are special because of God's Grace - not because of anything worthy of self-boasting.
John addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees as "You brood of vipers" - a sermon opening that must certainly got their attention. Notice, though, John does not call them "vipers" -- but rather the brood or off-spring of vipers. There is a significant difference. A viper, as we all know, is a poisonous serpent and contact with one can mean death. Adam and Eve followed Satan as a viper out of paradise and into sin and death. The Pharisees and Sadducees were making themselves the brood of that viper.
Life is a threshing sled. Illness, war, crime, corruption in high places, financial setbacks, unrealized hopes, family strife, injury, failure, and finally death itself run roughshod over us and deal crushing blows. Temptations offer us a great deal, but in the end also prove to be crushing weights to carry. We are sorely tested by our failures and our triumphs - by our sorrows and our joys - by the bad times and the good. Back and forth over us like a huge threshing sled, life moves on. And the end is coming.
John warned that The Lord's "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."
When Christ comes life’s threshing sleds have done their work and no one is worthy to stand in Jesus’ Presence - all are unclean sinners. John called upon all who heard his words to acknowledge that great truth by being symbolically baptized in the dying Jordan River in recognition of their need to be cleansed and made worthy to stand in The Lord’s Presence. Many came and were baptized. John promised there was more … far more.
“Gospel” is the Old English words god spel – good news. Advent’s message is The Good News of Jesus Christ – The Ultimate Gospel. The voice of fulfilled hope in the wilderness said, "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." John the Baptist leads the people into the undrinkable waters to confess their sinfulness and total unworthiness in God’s Presence – to symbolically confess their need for what only Christ can give. The voice of one calling in the wilderness came to announce the long-awited arrival of Jesus Who alone can truly cleanse us and give us genuine life now and eternally through His Baptismal Waters. Only Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit Who enlightens and empowers and with spiritual fire which cleanses, purifies and empowers. The Advent Message is proclaimed loudly in the wilderness of life – even along the “Path of Defeat”.
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS. AMEN.
Third Sunday of The Advent Season
December 17, 2017
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio