There is nothing quite like the warm fuzzy feeling you get when JBap starts preaching on Advent 3. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?” And Merry Christmas to you too! It certainly gets our attention as we light the pink candle on the Advent Wreath, y’know, the one symbolizing joy, to hear JBap lay into the crowd who have come to him seeking the baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins.
In Matthew’s version of the story, this exchange is between JBap and the Pharisees and Sadducees, and given the tenor of religious debate over the last 2,000 years, “brood of vipers” is close to a term of endearment. In Luke, however, this is a sermon given not to the religious powers that be, but instead to the crowd, the riff-raff, the genuinely poor saps who came, it seems, with honest intentions of repentance and hope for forgiveness in their hearts. A brood of vipers!?! This is a bit harsh. (and as you can tell from my intro, I blame the RCL for continuing to include it in the Advent lectionary).
Luke wraps this whole story up with a nice little bow by saying, “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” Which makes this preacher take pause and ask a question of myself. How is being called a brood of vipers good news?
The answer, of course, is in the very next sentence out of JBap’s mouth. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” The good news for JBap’s audience is that bearing fruit is possible. The good news for us is that by the grace of God that is to come into the world in Jesus of Nazareth, bearing fruit is possible for everyone. To build on yesterday’s theme, we can all “act as if” the Kingdom of God is here, now.
So Merry Christmas you hypocritical jerks. Now, go bear fruit worthy of repentance.