Advent 2 (Year A)
Context: This scripture passage is set just after the birth narrative of Jesus. The Holy Family flees Bethlehem and then returns to Nazareth. A completely new section begins in today’s Gospel with John the Baptists in (3:1) and the Baptism of Jesus (3:13).
Location: The Wilderness / Jordan River
Characters: John The Baptist, People of Jerusalem, Pharisees, Sadducees, Jesus
3:1- The importance John the Baptist’s appearing is made explicitly known in Matthew 17:10-13 & 11:13. His coming is a prelude to the coming of the Messiah. Because of the later Elijah link, reading the last chapter of Malachi especially 4:5 will help show John’s importance.
3:2- His message of repentance is in light of the Kingdom of Heaven coming near. God acts first in bringing the coming Kingdom, and John calls people to respond to it with repentance.
3:3- The scripture that is cited is Isaiah 40:3.
3:4- John is described as Elijah with what he wears and is pretty close to what Elijah wears (2 Kings 1:8). Zech 1:8 is also a textual echo of why he is not a false prophet.
3:5, 6- John was baptizing people with a baptism of repentance. People would confess their sin and then be washed clean. There is a difference between John’s baptism and the baptism of the Christian.
3:7- The Pharisees and Sadducees are actually coming for baptism and repentance. But, John has harsher words for them than anyone else. Someone has warned them about “the coming wrath” and they responded along with the crowds. But, it seems like John knows that the water isn’t going to do anything for them because they have no intention of repenting.
3:8- The repentant lifestyle bears fruit.
3:9- The life of faith and repentance is not one where we can trust our lineage or heritage. It must be manifest in us as individuals and as communities. We can only trust God’s promises to us.
3:10- This is a clear warning that we are to be bear good fruit amidst our repentance. What goes for the sadducees and pharisees applies to us as well. According to Galatians, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control.” This is the fruit we are bearing.
3:11- Jesus is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Christian baptism is not one of solely repentance (purifying fire), but one of the Holy Spirit.
3:12- I think this is the hardest verse of this reading. “His” is referring to Jesus who is referenced earlier. There is a clear judgment theme and dividing. How do we stand under this verse without the mental gymnastics of making say something it doesn’t? How do we deal with God as judge? How do we deal with scripture that tells us there are some like wheat and some like chaff? I’m still working all this out.
I would encourage preachers not to shy away from the 3:12. Though this is the most difficult part of the story, I think congregations will want to know what this means for them.
The second Sunday in Advent is very apocalyptic in nature and surrounds John the Baptist. But, it is always pointing toward the coming Savior. This may feel like a detour on the road to Christmas, but, it’s really a pause.
It’s a reminder that we are called to lives of repentance, fruit, and trust that God makes us wheat not chaff. We continue to prepare for the coming Messiah who makes us his own in baptism with fire and the Holy Spirit.
This is a Sunday to call people to repentance, renewed faithfulness, and trust in God who sends us a Savior in the form of a baby.