My Dear friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ on this first snowy weekend of winter. A few weeks ago, the National Christmas Tree came through Britt. From what I understand, one of the guys who is in charge of taking it from Wyoming to the Nation’s Capital wanted to stop through Britt to pick up some cookies from his grandma and, from that request, Britt became a stop along the route. If you read the write up in the newspaper, you know that it arrived on time and left on time. You know that there were songs by children and several politicians spoke, even politicians who only spoke at most a sentence or two. You know that we sent ornaments to President Obama and the First Lady to hang on the Christmas tree. There were a lot of really nice things in the article. You know what was totally missing? Any mention that the ministerial association put together a program involving a reading of the traditional story The Tale of the Three Trees or that one of the minister’s in town read a prayer at the ceremony. I don’t mention this because we demand attention inasmuch as to point out that the religious elements intentionally or unintentionally were complete excluded from the story.
The gospel today tells the story of John the Baptist. Last week we started hearing from the Gospel of Matthew and you can kind of tell that Matthew has a great deal of respect for John the Baptist. First of all, he writes that John appeared in the desert of Judea, which almost seems magical. Elijah was supposed to appear when the end times were near so it seems as though Matthew is indicating that John the Baptist is Elijah who has returned. You might remember that the Old Testament figure of Elijah was taken up in a fiery chariot. John the Baptist may not have the fiery chariot but his rhetoric is fiery enough to take its place. John dresses like a crazed prophetic monk wearing clothing made of camel’s hair and a leather belt. He enjoys a balanced diet of honey and locusts and, yet, despite appearing to be totally nuts, draws all kinds of people to his baptism of repentance. He’s the exact opposite of a mega church pastor in lifestyle with the same popular result.
John’s message to both the liberals and the conservatives of his day was the same: “Produce good fruit! …every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” I prayed about this and something occurred to me that makes this statement quite striking. John is preaching this message from the desert, a place where a tree is valued simply because it can provide shelter. When you are in desert heat, you may not need figs or apples or pomegranates. Just having a place where a person could sit and rest outside of the heat of the sun makes the tree worthwhile. But, not for God. Trees that just sit there not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. They not only need to look pretty, they also need to be a source of nourishment.
So, John is telling us that we need to produce good fruit or we will be cut down and thrown into the fire. What are the good fruits that God expects us to produce? It seems to me that the first reading helps us know what our good fruit should be. “…the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them… There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”
There is so much hurt and so many divisions in our world, our church, and our family. That’s what upsets me so much about how the article didn’t mention the fact that a group of ministers put together one program to help people remember that the Christmas tree is more than just a storage place for presents. Our Churches are not yet united but at least we’re working on accomplishing the good work we are called to by our heavenly Father. Yet, not only churches are called to heal divisions. All of us are called to this work of forgiveness and unity, especially during this Advent season. Isn’t it time to call up that relative that you got into a fight with years ago and offer forgiveness? Maybe it’s time to call up that old friend that you haven’t talked to in some time and reconnect. Or maybe it’s time to sit down with your mom and dad and admit that you were the one who stole that $20 from them and that you’re very sorry. Now is the time to produce good fruit and stop sitting around hoping to be shade for someone.