In the Lectionary

December 4, Advent 2A (Matthew 3:1-12)

John the Baptist is calling for more than a cognitive recognition of wrongdoing.

My spouse and I have two young children, and we join the daily cacophony of adults who remind kids: tell the truth. Sometimes we even do it in that caring-but-we-mean-it voice our friends seem to have perfected in some secret parenting master class. When our kids get a bit older, I suspect their third- and fourth-grade teachers will guide them through “fact or opinion” worksheets just as my teachers did for me. As they journey through their teenage years and into young adulthood, I hope we’ll have the kind of conversations that help them be honest with themselves about who they are, where they find joy, and how they discern calling and vocation.

Adults pour a lot of energy into helping children and young people tell the truth. I think we do this because we know how difficult it is to discern and tell the truth in a world full of “alternative facts” and noisy, market-driven grabs at our attention.

In our Gospel passage, John the Baptist offers an incisive word of truth in the form of information and an urgent imperative to follow. The information is that the kingdom of heaven has come near. The imperative is to prepare for the kingdom through repentance and baptism. As John relies on words such as vipers, wrath, and fire to make his point, the passage can ring with a haunting tone that seems disconnected from the Advent season in which we encounter it. However, it is important to recognize that at the heart of his message is a direct word that cuts through the noise: it is possible to be part of the kingdom of heaven here and now, and this calls for a way of being that reflects what Jesus is about.