I have heard it said that preaching should bring comfort to the burdened while at the same time make those living at ease uncomfortable. John the Baptist checked both off the list from the reading in Matthew. God is not impressed with human power by whatever means it is gained. God announces what is about to happen not through human power but in human weakness. The birth of Jesus was announced first to shepherds (the witness of a shepherd wasn’t accepted back then). The news of Jesus’ resurrection was first announced by women (their words were considered nonsense according to Luke). The great prophets of old weren’t the ones echoing the words of the king. They were the false prophets. The great prophets were apparent nobodies who called the king to accountability. John the Baptist was out in the wilderness and he spoke a word to be heard by the burdened and the ones at ease alike.
The people from the surrounding region came to hear John’s message to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Repentance means to turn around. The coming reign of God is to be embraced with lives that reject the current power structures in order to embrace God’s rule of justice and peace. The poor and enslaved gladly received the news of God’s judgment on their behalf. They were baptized as a way of preparing for the coming of God in their midst.
Religious leaders of the time, Pharisees and Sadducees, also came to hear John and to be baptized. He called them a bunch of snakes. They weren’t to put their confidence before God based on heritage, position or DNA. Instead, they were to show lives of repentance by seeking God’s justice and not power.
John was in the wilderness announcing the coming of one who will establish the rule of God. John baptized with water but this one of God will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. This one will bring judgment where what is done for the kingdom is kept; what is useless is discarded and burned. This one whom John the Baptist announced is Jesus.
John the Baptist’s words are still double edged for our day. Jesus establishing the coming rule of God is good news for those enslaved and under oppression. Jesus establishing the coming rule of God is judgment for those in power who show no compassion or justice for the enslaved and oppressed. As the days draw closer to Christmas and welcoming of the Christ child, let us heed the words of John and show lives of repentance. Let the news of Christmas be good news for all people.