John the Baptist and Brood of Vipers
It is a rainy, chilly morning in Pensacola.
Even as I write those words, I smile. Our grandson inherited my cold genes through his father. By cold genes, I mean we are more comfortable being cool than hot. We sleep cool. We need less clothing to stay warm. He told his Baba, AdventureMan, that “chilly is not cold” because he didn’t want to wear long pants, he prefers shorts.
(There are a lot of images of John the Baptist, but this one made me grin; he looks a little Rastafarian, and I hadn’t thought of him as so long haired and skinny, but he was living in the wilderness and eating locusts and honey . . . )
I can still feel the air grow still as the British Ambassador to Kuwait read a very odd scripture about John the Baptist. It was odd because while it talked about John, it was unfamiliar to me. At the end, he said “A reading from the holy Qu’ran” and I was astonished for two reasons. First, I didn’t know that the Muslims recognized John the Baptist (they do, he is called Yahya Yahanna, and they have a beautiful tomb to him in the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, where many visit and pray) and second, I didn’t know I belonged to a church that would allow the Qu’ran to be read as Holy Scripture.
Life is long, and full of surprises. I love it. I think the ability to be surprised, and to ponder those quick flickers of perspective keeps us young in heart, and young in spirit.
Today, John speaks to us, each and every one. The true path is coming, the word of God embodied in a human being, born a tiny baby, a human baby, God come down into flesh. (My Muslim friends are quivering with fear at this point, waiting for me to be struck down for such blasphemy. They don’t believe Jesus was the son of God, but that he was a messenger, like Mohammed. They also believe Jesus will be the judge at the end of times.)
Life among the Moslems. Bible study with the Baptist. My very Mormon friends. My own very Episcopalian faith. All these influences – and my Alaskan heritage – mashed together with smatterings of others, have gone into making me a very odd sort of Christian.
I’m OK with that.
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler* of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler* of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler* of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’