Thursday, December 2, 2010

John the Baptist's Time in the Spotlight

Our scripture texts for this Second Sunday of Advent are a motley crew of beauty and bizareness: Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13, and Matthew 3:1-12. Click here to give them a read.

The picture at right is too good not to use, and I figured I probably could not get away with using it as the bulletin cover this week, Lego John the Baptist. As I was searching for a picture of John the Baptist to use on our blog this week this was not the picture I was expecting to come across...but then again, when is John the Baptist ever what we expect? He shows up at the beginning of all four gospels, preparing the way for Jesus...and he shows up in the lectionary for the Second Sunday of Advent every single year...he is Advent's prophet. Yet he always catches me a little off guard and makes me wonder, what is it with this guy? What makes him so significant that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all give him serious face time...that Luke gives us as many details about his conception and birth as he does about Jesus'? What makes this season of Advent a particularly poignant opportunity to pay attention to such an odd character? Why is he the right prophet for this season of preparation? What makes this the right time, to continue our theme, for John to show up and disrupt our lives with his cry of, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near"?

Beyond this plethora of questions about John the Baptist, the other question I had rolling around in my head as I read our texts for this week had to do with all the tree imagery found in these passages. In this season where we put up trees in our homes as a means of preparation, these passages speak of a shoot coming out of a stump, of a root rising to rule over all people...such images of growth and new life are rich in Isaiah and Romans. In Matthew, however, we hear of an axe prepared to chop trees down at their roots, leaving those that don't bear fruit as decimated stump. We hear of cut-down castoffs added as fuel to the fire by a sort of Lumberjack Lord. How do these seemingly contrasting images, powerful in their rich detail, hold together? When we put them side by side, what kind of forest can we make out from these trees?
Good questions for us to ponder as we head into this Sunday...

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