This is the seventh year that our family
will be celebrating Advent. The
texts in the Advent lectionary have always perplexed me. They are contrary to the grain of cultural Christmas
Christianity. John the Baptist is
one of the main figures studied during Advent. And with this fringe figure comes a peculiar contrarian
message. This coming week we will
look at the gist of his message that centred on the coming of a new kingdom
accompanied by ‘fruits worthy of repentance’.
John uses a powerful symbol. He says that, “the axe is lying at
the roots of the trees”. I’m
wondering what it would mean if the Christmas trees we decorate have this symbol
attached to the tree; as a reminder that our lives will have to be decorated with
the fruits of repentance.
In the text for this weekend some of John’s
hearers enquired about the substance of the fruits John described. They asked, “what are these fruits?”
Yet they didn’t ask this question in an un-embodied way. For them the question had to lead to
deeds. The symbol of the axe led
to the actions of their bodies.
“What should we do?” is the response to the
picture of the axe against the tree.
John’s answer to their question is:
Those with two coats should share with them
who have none.
Those with enough food should share with
those who have none.
Tax collectors shouldn’t collect more than
were prescribed to them.
Soldiers shouldn’t use their power as a way
to extort money and they should be satisfied with their wages.
The axe, it seems, is not trapped in the
dualism we have fallen into! The axe will not chop of some of the things we easily deem as unspiritual. Just
look at the list and ask yourself whether it would pass in your church as
Maybe we can remember during this Christmas
that the life we are called to live is an intensely material life. It is a life that is founded on our
belief that God became man. That
Jesus didn’t find materiality unspiritual.
Maybe we can all remember to decorate our
trees with practical fruits and remind ourselves with the symbol of an axe.