In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3This 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.'" 4Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7But 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? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do 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. 10Even now the ax 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. 11I 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. 12His 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."
All the Gospels portray us a picture of John the Baptist as an angry man proclaiming the coming of the day of Lord’s wrath. He called some who were approaching him as “brood of vipers;” He demanded people to repent and he was on a strange diet. Even the gospels seem to consider his source of nutrition a bit odd as it seemed to be worthwhile to mention, that he ate locusts. Until today this fact has been just a gross detail in the gospels but as I listened a radio program from CBC the other day, they interviewed a nutrition specialist, who predicted that in the future insect protein is going to be a significant source of nutrition for the human family. The highest protein content found on the earth can be milked from the cockroaches. You heard it right. Milk of a Pacific Beetle Cockroach is considered the next superfood. So John could be seen as a trailblazer, not only for the messiah but also for the revolution in the food industry. Bon appetite with that.
Even though John’s message was hard, it had a promise that if people stop doing bad things, and start doing good things, their relationship with God could be restored so that they would be ready when the Messiah comes to separate wheat from scuff. This promise was yet boosted with a threat, that an axe is waiting for all who do not behave. Many people still think that this is what Church is all about. And I guess church hasn’t done a good job in trying to teach people otherwise. I talked to a man some years ago, and asked if he goes to church. His reply was that he “tries to be good on his own.“ His understanding was that human relationship to God was a moral relationship; and faith is all about being a good boy and a good girl. There is nothing wrong being a good boy or a girl, but moral issues are only one side of Christian faith.
But not only do people outside the church have this misconception. Often I sense a claim that church should be more a John-like church than a Jesus-like church. Church should, like it did before, keep people on the narrow path. We don’t always see that God’s love and grace are the most powerful things that we can proclaim. If you asked me, Love and Grace are the narrow path that we are asked to stay on.
It is easier to point that someone has done wrong and they deserve only a swing of an axe from God. Much more difficult it is to talk about living, loving and merciful God and hardest of all is to be merciful, to love and to forgive. Even John understood that something was missing from his message. He saw that the Messiah, Christ would be something totally different than he is. He also understood that baptizing people with water as a sign of repentance and trying harder to become sinless wasn’t enough. Some stronger measures should be taken before the prophecy of Isaiah would be fulfilled:
Isa 11:6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them...
…They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
John knew these promises and we know them, too. And I think that to all of us it sounds something not from this world. John knew - and we know, that something extraordinary must happen, before this becomes the reality of life. In John’s mind this kind of peace would prevail in the whole universe – humanity and animals included, only if Creator himself came down and put everyone in order with power. It sounds like a divine peace-forcing operation. We know from the contemporary history, how dysfunctional the peace keeping operations usually are. Conflict parties are forced not to fight. Although this way many human lives are saved, the root of the conflict usually remains. To stop violence with a threat of violence is not the answer. Satan cannot cast out Satan.
God’s way to return the peace on this planet and mend it completely, was - and still is - so surprising that it is no wonder, that even John started to doubt whether Jesus was the one. When he was jailed, he sent Jesus a message asking him: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Also today most of the people have hard time to believe that Jesus is the One or that God has done or will do something for the healing of the universe. God didn’t choose to come down with the army of angels to put everyone - from the smallest creature to the most powerful human beings - to order. God doesn’t force us to follow him or to change our lifes.
But In short – this is what God has done: God’s way to get the universe to that state, as Isaiah portrayed it, began so that God left the glory, came down and was born as a human being. As a human being, he showed the world that he is a loving God: he taught them, healed them and gave them hope that they can become children of God. He died on the cross as the last sacrifice for all the sins of the world and he was resurrected and he will live. Every human being is called to become his disciple and he will give them a new spirit, a Holy Spirit as a guide and teacher. This all has happened, but the world is still the same. There is violence, hunger and hurt. In the animal world there is no peace. The laws of nature are ruling everywhere. Has something gone wrong? Did someone ruin God’s good plan?
God’s plan has succeeded, but it is not completed. It is still in formation going towards its completion. We don’t know when it is going to happen and what is God’s time span on this, but we know that Jesus has born, lived, died and risen. In Christ God has taken a major step towards the world of wolfs and lams living together in a peaceful harmony.