Matthew 3:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This 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.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But 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? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do 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. 10 Even 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.
11 “I 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. 12 His 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.”
Of all the Advent texts John the Baptist might be my favorite one. Where else do you get to call people a “Brood of Vipers.” Ironically the texts for the week though point us to the theme of peace. “What Can’t Wait” this week is peace. How do we get from a brood of vipers to peace? That seems more like fighting words than peace. So, let’s see how our artists might move us in this direction. Remember to be working on your bulletin covers…
Lisle Gwynn Garrity leads us to today in a piece she calls “A Child Shall Leade Them” based on the Isaiah passage. She writes, “The image of the stump of Jesse might have knocked the air out of those first hearing these words. The stump represented the end of the Davidic dynasty, the family line believed to carry Yahweh’s goodness.
The monarchy was either thwarted by the Babylonian exile, or the Assyrian empire—historically, we’re not exactly sure. Regardless, Isaiah names what no one wants to say out loud—Jerusalem’s political future feels dead, cut off, stunted by despair.
The image of a stump might accurately represent how we feel about our own future. Greenhouse gases and sea levels continue to rise. No place—schools, sanctuaries, theaters, malls—is safe from mass shooting attacks. Our government leaders fight like lions and wolves starving for dominance.
We also need Isaiah’s vision for a reordered world where creation exists in harmony, not as a threat to itself.
When reading this poetry of peace, I found myself pausing at the line, “and a child shall lead them” (Is. 11:6). The example of Naomi Wadler came to mind. After the Parkland, FL, school shooting,1 Naomi, an eleven-year-old at the time, organized a walkout at her elementary school to honor victims of gun violence. In addition to those slain in Parkland, Naomi and her fifth grade classmates also recognized people of color who are killed by gun violence every day and never make news headlines. Naomi went on to speak courageously before crowds in DC and on TV shows about the need for gun reform. When she spoke, she held the nation—and much of the world—captive with her passion, her insight, and her urgency.
Where is new life shooting up? Perhaps in the places where God can’t wait for peace. Perhaps in the voices of our children, who urge us to find a better way.”
Next is a piece by Lauren Wright Pittman entitled, “One With Mystery” based on the Matthew passage. This is my favorite picture of them all. Lauren writes, “A curious, odd, status quo-threatening man emerges in the wilderness of Judea. He shouts in the place of desolation—a dangerous place where God has repeatedly shown up throughout Israel’s history. John lifts up his voice, entreating people to make an about-face from the things that keep them from God, and move toward the new thing God is doing. He invites people to dip their weary bodies into the river, wade into mystery, and to tell the truth—taking on a posture of confession and surrender.
This eccentric man wears the clothes and eats the food of one living at the mercy of the land. His embodiment is that of an outcast, defined by common elements—camel hair, locusts, and honey. This is the one entrusted with introducing the world to God’s incarnate self. John’s cries bring the powerful to the edges of society where Jesus would spend his life and ministry. John points us to where God is to be found—in the wilderness, at the margins of power, at the periphery of looming, destructive systems, where the waters of Baptism ripple and swirl, where grace is abundant and God draws near. I drew John at one with the wilderness. His shape is hardly distinguished from the powdery textures and deep, cool colors of the waters of the Jordan. He is at one with the wonder and mystery of the coming Messiah. He holds out his hand, inviting the viewer to choose trust and dive fully into the unknown.”
Our last picture is the one you are coloring created by Hannah Garrity. It is entitled, “Flourish”. It is based on the reading from Psalm 72. She writes, “The psalmist prays for wisdom for his leader, King Solomon. The leadership actions are specified: “defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (Psalm 72:4). The psalmist contends that these actions of righteousness create peace for the nation. In a poetic rejoinder, the psalmist imagines this form of leadership as nourishment that will cause the people to flourish.
God bless our elected officials. May they defend the poor, deliver the needy, and crush the oppressor. Thus our people will flourish.
Leadership is an opportunity to be aware of the needs of your people, to focus on the overall group goals, and to engage people in meaningful work; thereafter, if needed, comes the enforcement of rules, the compliance. Author Daniel Pink argues that engagement before compliance is the order that humans will best respond to.
In my classroom, I explored this idea last school year. As the year progressed, I found that the more I focused on engagement first, the less time I spent on compliance. This year, my students needed more support than the year before. No matter what I did, the room was most productive if I had personally checked in with every child in the class. Once I had done that, the confidence level rose palpably and a hum of productivity ensued.
In this coloring page I have expressed this poetic idea of the intangible measures we hope for in our leaders. Rain falls and grass grows, nourished in the endlessness of the cyclical day, the sun and moon.
God bless our elected officials. May they defend the poor, deliver the needy, and crush the oppressor, that our people may flourish.”