3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
‘A voice of one
calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.”’[a]
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 ‘I baptise you withwater for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ Matthew 3:1–12
At Christmas when our kids were young I would sometimes try and disguise their presents if the gift had a very distinctive shape. I wanted the present to be a surprise when they opened it. Matthew talks in the passage above about a surprising gift, a gift that didn’t come in the packaging people were expected.
Matthew introduces us to John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who lived out in the wilderness on the margins of his society. He didn’t look like or sound like the normal religious leaders in Israel. John as a religious leader really was a surprising package, he wasn’t a priest or rabbi or Pharisee or a Sadducee, he was a prophet. The Holy Spirit called John the Baptist to point out what other people in his culture couldn’t see: that Jesus was the promised Messiah. John said that Jesus was God’s way of giving the gift of God’s kingdom.
So the kingdom of God comes to us through a man, but a man wasn’t who wasn’t what was expected. The world expects Kingdoms to come through men who are rich and powerful through money and force. Jesus by contrast was born to a poor, relatively insignificant family in a backwater of the Roman Empire and from a region that was looked down on. The people of Israel was expecting a Messiah who would have be a great military leader like King David or rich and famous like King Solomon and Jesus didn’t look like that at all.
Matthew in his Gospel reveals to us the source of the kingdom of God. God Kingdom breaks into the world and our lives through person from a town no one thought important. Matthew is trying to help us understand that the gift of the Kingdom that came through Jesus, just like some of my kid’s Christmas presents, didn’t look like many people expected it to.
Jesus is a gift that doesn’t come in the normal box, He doesn’t come in the expected packaging. There is an Advent hymn that starts with the line “Come, thou long expected Jesus” Well in one sense that is right, the people of Israel were expecting their Messiah and that Messiah was Jesus. Yet on the other hand they weren’t expecting their Messiah to be like Jesus of Nazareth, they didn’t expect the Messiah to come from the background Jesus did humanly speaking or talk and act in the way Jesus did. They especially didn’t expect the Messiah to conquer through a cross not a sword, by giving his life for his enemies rather than taking the life of his enemies. Jesus really was a surprising package and the Kingdom he invited people into was equally surprising, just read the Sermon on the Mount!
Today things are much the same, people still don’t expect that the answer for what their looking for in life will come through Jesus. Jesus as the source of salvation is still surprising to many people. He just doesn’t come in the packaging they expected. We still need to listen to John the Baptist as he points to Jesus as the Messiah.
I wonder if you can remember a time in your life when God did something in your life in an unexpected way or through an unexpected person? During Advent we think and reflect on the first coming of Jesus and how unexpected it was in many ways. It should also probably remind us to look for God’s Kingdom to come in ways we don’t necessarily expect and through surprising people. Maybe one of the lessons of Advent is that God seems to delight in surprising us.
Lord, help us to receive the gift you are offering to us, even when it doesn’t come in the way we might expect. Help us to notice where your kingdom is breaking into our everyday lives even if it comes from a surprising source. Amen.