2nd Sunday of Advent (Ages 9-12): Axes and Fire?
(You could begin by reading the scripture passage. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. The Word of God is meant to be heard.)
Each Advent. as we prepare ourselves for the feast of the Light of God coming into the world, we hear about John the Baptist. We might even think of him as the preparation person. He prepares people for Jesus, the Light of the World.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
John the Baptist calls to people to repent, to change their ways, to prepare. Why? Because the Kingdom of God has come near. If we do not change, we might miss something so important.
We cannot help but notice, though, that John the Baptist is—just a little—unusual.
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
Perhaps even a little odd.
John the Baptist scolds those who do not see the need to repent, to prepare. He says,
"Even now the ax 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 🔥
John the Baptist certainly is a little disturbing.
Likely, he is trying to be disturbing. He wants to shake people up; he wants to get a reaction. He wants the people to prepare. He wants them to repent. He wants them to turn their lives around and experience the love of God.
Unfortunately, listening to strange, wild John the Baptist, sometimes it is hard to hear the love of God. All that cutting down of trees with axes and throwing them into the fire 🔥
We have to remember that Jesus joins the crowd of people getting baptized and confessing their sins. He also listens to John the Baptist's words. Perhaps he thinks, "I can do better than this." 😉
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit 🍇. Every branch that bears fruit 🍇 he prunes to make it bear more fruit 🍇...Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit 🍇, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire 🔥, and burned...As the Father has loved ❤️ me, so I have loved ❤️ you; abide in my love ❤️. (John 15:1-11)
When Jesus speaks, we can hear the love of God 😊
What does pruning do? It cuts away parts of the plant that are dead—that do not have life within them—and allows the parts that are living to grow more fully. The sap of the plant flows into the area that has been cut away, bringing with it new life. The plant becomes healthier after the pruning.
What does God want to prune off of us? What parts of our lives are not life bearing? We can think of the choices we have made that block the flow of the Holy Spirit in us. God wants to prune these things away, wants to remove these blockages so that the Holy Spirit can flow freely again, bringing new life. God does this most completely in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
John the Baptist says,
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire 🔥
John the Baptist just cannot let that fire 🔥 go, though:
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire 🔥”
Jesus talks about that fire 🔥, too:
such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned
Both of these things that are burned—the chaff and the dead branches—are not life giving. They are burned away leaving behind only that which is healthy, that which brings life. And what about the parts that are burnt? The ashes are put around the roots to return nutrients to the soil, and once again they bring life, feeding the plant.
This all sounds much better, does it not?
But are we changing the meaning of the Gospel? Are we just trying to tame wild John the Baptist?
Nope. When we look at the first reading, from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
A stump... Someone has taken an axe to this tree. But look, when life seems impossible, what sprouts? A shoot, a branch.
Who is that shoot?
Jesus knows about such things. Jesus knows all about life when life seems impossible. This Advent, we repent and prepare, we go to the sacrament of reconciliation. We let God prune away all that is not life bearing and we wait for God to come near.