“The kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”
We are not quite sure what exactly John meant by those words. Scholars make assumptions. Some say it refers to the time when the fullness of God’s power and presence will be acknowledged by all creation. In that context we are still in ‘waiting mode’.
His call for repentance to prepare was accompanied by the ritual act of going to the Jordan and being washed…an historic practise in that culture. There was “the brood of vipers”, even in his time. They led the opposition, and continued to do so to Jesus and sadly, at the moment, to Pope Francis; or, perhaps and better still, to the call of the Spirit.
I write this on the feast of St Ambrose. In 374 the Bishopric of Milan fell vacant. The Catholic and Arian factions were in bitter conflict over the choice of a new Bishop. Ambrose, the then unbaptised Prefect, tried to be a peacemaker and the people, then recognising his gifts, elected him. So, within a week he was baptised, ordained and installed as bishop. He promptly gave his money to the poor, gave his land to the Church and set about studying Scripture and Theology. He so influenced Augustine that Augustine joined the Church and, as is said, the rest is history. The Spirit spoke through the people and the work of the Kingdom continued. And, for a time, the “brood of vipers ” withdrew.
Advent urges us to prepare, repent, to open our minds and hearts, to allow us to re-look at the Mystery of Christmas. Only the Spirit could have dreamed up the concept of beginning our salvation through the helpless eyes and hands of a baby. The Spirit is still active. So, too, the “brood of vipers”.
I heard recently of Roseanne Rofaeel, a former student of Kolbe Catholic College, Melbourne who, despite or because of her refugee background, has established COTS (Christmas on the Streets) and mobilised many young people to begin helping the homeless. The Spirit broke through in her case and others have followed. What did the “brood of vipers” with all their power do?
John’s call and warning to his community contains three elements. They apply to us.
- The act of washing, alone will not save…
- Simply saying, “I belong to Abraham” will not protect them.
- Use the time you have profitably.
Each can do something to show the Kingdom, but this week, perhaps, we just let the Spirit speak; there may be another Ambrose or Roseanne lurking inside us.