Axes and Fire?
2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A
9-12 year olds
"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.
I don't know about you, but I find John the Baptist a little disturbing. He is trying to disturb, to shake people up, to get a reaction. He wants them to prepare. He wants them to repent. He wants them to turn their lives around and experience the love of God.
Unfortunately, listening to him, sometimes I find it hard to hear the love of God. All that cutting down of trees with axes and throwing them into the fire. Disturbing.
We have to remember that Jesus joined that crowd of people getting baptized and confessing their sins. He also listened to John the Baptist's words. And I wonder if he thought, 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)
Can you hear the love of God in Jesus' words? :)
What does pruning do? It cuts away parts of the plant that are dead, that are not life bearing, 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 is 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 mentioned this, too:
“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.
But then he goes on about that fire again:
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.”
And we hear Jesus talk about that, 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 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 become part of the soil, and once again they bring life, feeding the plant.
This all sounds much better, doesn't it? But are we just changing the meaning of the Gospel? Are we just trying to tame the wild John the Baptist?
I don't think so. Look at the first reading, from the book of the prophet Isaiah:
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 about life when life seems impossible.