|Sermon Preparation -
Years later, John the Baptist started preaching in the desert of Judea.
He said, "Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here."
John was the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about, when he said,
"In the desert someone is shouting,
'Get the road ready for the Lord!
Make a straight path for him.'"
John wore clothes made of camel's hair. He had a leather strap around his waist and ate grasshoppers and wild honey.
From Jerusalem and all Judea and from the Jordan River Valley crowds of people went to John. They told how sorry they were for the sins, and he baptized them in the river.
Many Pharisees and Sadducees also came to be baptized. But John said to them:
"You bunch of snakes! who warned you to run from the coming judgment?
Do something to show that you have really given up your sins.
And don't start telling yourselves that you belong to Abraham's family.
I tell you that God can turn these stones into children for Abraham.
An ax is ready to cut the trees down at their roots.
Any tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into a fire.
I baptize you with water so that you will give up your sins.
But someone more powerful is going to come, and I am not good enough
even to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
His threshing fork is in his hand, and he is ready to separate the wheat from the husks.
He will store the wheat in a barn and burn the husks in a fire that never will go out."
1. Some people respond best to beckoning, some to threatening. John uses both the carrot and the stick.
"The kingdom of heaven will soon be here" beckons us to a glorious future that is intersecting with our present. How do we get the road ready is a crucial question. One of the questions prior to that is what sort of "heaven" are we anticipating here on earth? Road building is from here to there. Without a good picture of there it is hard to know how to get a road ready.
What is the best you can imagine? How much are you willing to build toward that?
"Any tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into a fire" threatens us with building a right or correct road. Without a vision of where to build the road there are more chances to build incorrectly than not. In fact the odds are 359 to 1 (to use degrees of a circle) against doing this randomly. That's pretty scary.
Building from a beckoned future is more profitable than scurrying around in a threatened present.
2. The Holy Spirit and fire. Are these extensions of the same phenomena so that the fire of the Holy Spirit fights the fear of fire? Thus we are vaccinated by the crucifixion so we are not afraid to offer our life for heaven?
Are these different so the Holy Spirit stores the wheat and the fire burns the husks? Thus we are purified with the "good" enhanced and the "not-good" reduced?
3. John's language leads us beyond a literal, dictionary meaning of the Bible. Sparks are thrown off by John's images. Imagine participating in life with the Holy Spirit. Imagine being joined with Jesus through all the years and times. Imagine being beckoned into new life -- not out of fear, but in anticipation of greater joy than has yet been imagined.
Preparing for Christmas is to participate in imagining GOD really does love you and this world enough to prepare a way through - Thanks be to GOD for imagining a Christ-Child!
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