The core of John's message is the same as that announced by Jesus, the nearness of God's reign (cf. Matthew 4:17). Matthew also identifies John as the one described by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 40:3), reshaping the exilic oracle to point to the wilderness as the location of John's activity. These features of the text are typical of the manner in which Matthew weaves together a thick web of images and key words that resonate with important Old Testament themes and stories. – Aaron J. Couch
Into the dark, quiet, watchful season of Advent bursts John the Baptist . . . His ascetic diet of locust and honey, his rough clothing, his earnest message of “Repent!” all seize the imagination. We sit up, take notice, of this voice crying in the wilderness, sensing we must give our full attention.
John stands as a man between times, and in Matthew's account of him, he is aware of it. He is a preparer of the way, sent to make all ready the One who is to come. His baptism is a baptism for repentance, a cleansing from the accrued detritus of sin. A sorrowful, humble recognition of the need for cleansing is part and parcel of its efficacy. Therefore, when the Pharisees and Sadducees come to the Jordan to be baptized, John is outraged. He sees them as insincere. They are not coming because they see themselves as stained and dusty, weary with sin, weary of the darkness in which the world hangs waiting. They are seeing this baptism as simply another gold star on their perfect charts. . . .
John is trying to shake complacency. His is a scream for attention, a grabbing by the shirt, in-your-face confrontation. “You think you're pure? You think you're favored? You think God can't do something completely new? Something is happening, and nothing will ever be the way it was! Wake up!”
John was a man of the in-between times, standing in the darkness, but straining for the light. And this is the mood of Advent. As we stand in the darkness and strain once again for the light, may we let our complacency be shaken, may we examine ourselves with eyes wide open, may we recall that in the Nicene Creed, which we recite almost automatically, there is a reminder that there is a new thing that God is prepared at some point to do: “Christ will come again.” – Judith Buck-Glenn
Having announced the judgment of God by which the mightiest of trees will be cut down (10:33–34), the prophet turns his attention to the stump that remains. Both the tree and the stump symbolize the nation of Israel as defined by the monarchy. The stump, the end of the tree, represents an end for the dynasty of David. But it is also the beginning of a new work of God. – Aaron J. Couch
The challenge for our nation during Advent, and especially following a contentious election, is to consider the meaning for each of us and for our congregations that the Apostle Paul admonishes us to greater and deeper concern for our neighbors.
Paul insisted that the weak and strong should never despise each other, but instead act with love, accommodating as best they can the needs and scruples of their neighbors. – Aaron J. Couch
Judith Buck-Glenn is associate rector at Christ Church Episcopal in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.
Aaron J. Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
Homily Service 41, no. 1 (2007): 21-31.