2nd Sunday Advent
2nd Sunday Advent 2.21 “Brood of Vipers” Luke 3:1-20
So, Malachi tells us: when Jesus comes (which is what Advent is all about—the coming of Christ) he will bring the fire—and we’ll all go through it. John (who is the promised Forerunner, the messenger of the Christ) reiterates it at the end of our Gospel: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Why? Why the fire? Why not cupcakes and balloons for his party? This sounds like it could be a little bit… extreme. Well; John and Malachi also both answer that question: because Jesus is dropping down from heaven into a brood of vipers. Like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Remember the scene when they’ve finally found the ark’s burial chamber and it’s just crawling with snakes, pit vipers, and Indy—when he drops the torch into the chamber and sees all the vipers goes, “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes…”? And he and Marianne get dumped in the viper pit by the Nazis to perish?
That’s the scene here in the Gospel of Luke! Jesus is Indiana Jones dropping down from heaven into a brood of vipers (which is what we are). “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” Well, because we made friends with the Snake, the Devil, through our first parents in the Garden. We sided with him over God and we got pretty snakey ourselves. Remember how mom told you to be careful about picking your friends, because they’ll rub off on you? Mom was right! And also how, if you keep making that face, it could stay that way? Right. Again.
Malachi gives a short but informative list of those faces we keep making: sorcery, adultery, swearing falsely, oppressing the working man, widow, orphans and dirt-bag sojourners. All of the faces which we make because we do not fear God ‘cause we’re more afraid of and more impressed by the Snake. And, mostly, our faces have stayed that way…
Which is why the first thing the Messenger of God, the Forerunner of the Messiah has to say is: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” We’ve turned this beautiful earth into a snake pit. And the ark of the covenant has long since vanished from this burial chamber. Nazis probably still have it. Oh, well. We get something better…
Jesus! He drops into this mess we call “our civilization” and extends the right hand of friendship. On the surface, this is a really bad idea. Because… vipers, dontcha know! They bite. They’re mean. And poisonous. “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” Rats, spiders, we can deal with, like Indy. Snakes are more scary.
God sent snakes to bite his children when they were being especially naughty in the Wilderness out of Egypt. Fiery vipers whose bite stung like hell and killed lots of people. And as the people were dropping like flies (and complaining) God told Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it up on a pole and everyone who looked at the bronze serpent, even though snake-bit, would live…
Jesus tells Nicodemus, right after he was baptized by John, shortly after our Gospel today, that “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
And that’s exactly what we did to Jesus when he came befriending us: we lifted him up on a cross. We bit the hand that fed us! Because we’re snakes, a brood of vipers like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But God knew we’d do this. He made it all part of his plan. He who knew no sin became sin for us, became that bronze serpent, lifted up on the tree of the cross, so that whoever looks to him shall live.
His baptism puts out the fire. Takes the venom away. Unites us with Christ by burying us into his death, so that dying with him to our old selves, we can be raised up new creations. Not snakes anymore, not even a little bit snakey, but sons and daughters of the King.
And not only baptism does this. But by his Word, his Story, Jesus absorbs us into himself, into his world, makes us over in his Image and not only by the word and water, but by the Holy Supper he puts his very own body and blood into us, makes us one Body with him.
Which is great! Except… in a snake pit, surrounded by a brood of vipers, becoming like the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah—who takes away the snakes of the world—we become prime targets for the viper bites ourselves. Just as John was murdered for his witness by Herod (as most of the prophets and apostles were too) so it is—at first glance—a very mixed blessing to have our snakey selves replaced by the Image of Jesus. Snakes just love to bite into human flesh, especially if it tastes a little bit like lamb and looks a lot like a lion.
You will recall that, to keep the vipers away in that chamber in the Egyptian desert, Indy used fire, torches (and lots of gasoline 😉 And it worked really well! (snakes hate fire!) until… the torch went out. “Marianne, the torch is going out!” Then, roh-oh Scoob! The escape involves (as you recall) some whips, falling, and busting walls. So too with Jesus. He wields the whip in the temple, busts some walls down and opens a narrow Way of escape through the vipers, the fires, that we follow him on…
This Xn life is really a lot like Raiders of the Lost Ark. We’ve been dropped down into a pit of vipers, and when you get away from the snakes, bust out of the tomb hanging onto Indy’s, er Jesus’ whip, there are Nazis waiting for you, to knock you around some more. Harrowing! But the only thing about the Zombie Apocalypse, when it comes, that is difficult for us is pretending we’re not excited, right? Right!
Because, Jesus blazed the trail. He came to the Holy City of Jerusalem and it turned out to be a snake pit where they crucified him. Paul and Peter came to Rome ,the eternal city, where they were martyred for their faith in Jesus. The holiest cities of this earth are always snakes pits. *cough* Canterbury *cough* Constantinople *cough* Wittenberg *cough* St. Louis *cough*… Jesus comes with fire to burn them all down and everyone will get to feel the flames (because we’re all kind of chaffy).
But for us who have already died with Jesus in his Baptism, the fire of the Last Day will simply warm us with the light of heaven and make us shine like the Son of God, our Savior. As Malachi says: like fuller’s soap, or refiner’s fire only purifies the gold and and silver and precious jewels, getting rid of the dirt and the slag, so the fire of Christ at the Last Day will purify his sons and daughters. Maybe not an entirely benign procedure, but a joyful and exciting one! Like an Indiana Jones adventure, except better!
As we said last Wednesday: we’re all going to burn. But you can burn up like yesterday’s trash (or Indy’s snakes 😉 or you can burn like Jack Kerouac’s mad friends: “who burn, burn, burn, like fabulous Roman candles shooting across the sky and then the blue center light pops and everyone goes ‘Ahhh’!”
You can lament the snake pits, the Nazis, the terrors of this world as terrible mistakes God has made. Or you can, like Indiana Jones, see it as opportunities for glorious adventure; like Julianne of Norwich: see the blood from Jesus’ wounded head as love’s purest gift, see that nothing is amiss, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.