Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)
When Jackie and I were newly married we lived in Germany. I was a student, and Jackie, not speaking much German at that time, was busy working three jobs and learning the language mostly by immersion.
In the two years we were there Jackie’s mom came to visit us. Her dad stayed home, because, he said, he liked old trees better than old buildings. However, had we had children yet, we are pretty sure he too would have come.
As it was, Jackie’s mom came by herself, but flying with her brother Charlie, who in his fourth marriage was married to a woman who was born in Germany.
Jackie’s mom came to see us, Charlie and Hilda went to see Hilda’s family in the south of Germany. At some point we all went down to meet them and Jackie went for a bike ride with Hilda’s brother. It was shortly after the wall had come down and the post cold war troop reduction treaty had come into effect.
Hilda’s family lived in a small town, perhaps 2000 people. In that town there were old barracks recently vacated by American troops that had been stationed in Germany. A year later the barracks housed asylum seekers. The population of the barracks equalled roughly the population of the small town, as it had been with the military.
The solutions we devise are not always very smart.
You also must know that asylum seekers are not permitted to seek work while their case is being reviewed.
I wasn’t present during the conversation between Hilda’s brother and Jackie but he said something about ‘those foreigners,’ to which Jackie replied that this hit pretty close to home because she was one. She then discovered that she was too Western to be lumped in with “them”. By the way, Hilda’s brother was a kind and generous man.
Until Thursday I had heard about the flyers only on the radio. Perhaps you have seen them. I looked it up at the Richmond News.
The flyers raised some serious concerns but blame all problems on one ethnic group, because apparently that group is completely homogeneous and without any distinctions among itself. Scapegoating creates common purpose and dividing people is easier than seeking solutions together.
When I read the Gospel for today I hear John speak about Jesus as one who has a winnowing fork in his hand to separate the chaff from the wheat and to burn the wheat with an unquenchable fire.
Depending on how you feel about the flyers, you may sympathize with John. You may may identify someone to be chaff and I just hope that you and I identify the same people.
John announces that trees that bear no good fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire (something Jesus later echoes). And, of course, John calls the establishment a brood of vipers, which I imagine, means as much as to say that they are deceitful and work only for their own advantage.
John says that Jesus will do all these things.
But you know that Nicodemus the pharisee comes to Jesus and Jesus does not reject him. You know that Jesus interacts with all people, including pharisees, foreigners, tax collectors, soldiers, sinners.
Jesus certainly calls on people to repent, but we find out that he is the one who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the dimly burning wick (Isaiah 42). He is the one who turns his head to Jerusalem, not to inflict suffering but to bear suffering.
Like John, Jesus calls people to repent. Yet Jesus does not bring fire or destruction, for he is of the Father’s love begotten and has remained in it.
John had warned the religious establishment to flee from the wrath to come but while at times Jesus shows disappointment, and at times anger, there is no wrath.
People have wondered about this verse. What is ‘the wrath to come’ all about? –‒ considering that Jesus is not wrathful.
Wrath was John’s expectation. It likely was the only solution John could envision. It may often be the only solution we can envision. If we could only bomb the world into peace. If God could only send fire to devour all with racist tendencies.
Yet we know the story of the flood and know that the flood (Genesis 6- 8) did not change human nature and did change human beings. Fires always seem the simplest solution but it is not what Jesus brings. The judgment Jesus brings is the cross and the wrath we should be afraid of is our own.
Jesus does not bring wrath but the love of God. Jesus does not bring violence but peace by submitting to our violence that nailed him to the cross. That is why Advent is the season of hope. Our repentance finds a merciful God, who, it turns out, has been merciful all along.
The Good News is that our wrath has found an end. I am not sure who you wanted cut down, and who you considered chaff and wanted to see disposed. God loves all, even the people who give us great difficulty. That is why the apostle Paul can say to the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Maybe this is a bit of a stretch for you, for Paul writes his letter to the church, not broader society. But there were real dissensions in the church and Paul reminds them that in their welcoming of one another God is glorified.
We know that we don’t view all issues the same or experience things the same. While we are (mostly) united in our faith, many of our views also reflect the diversity of the world around us.
Our welcoming of one another, our foregoing of our wrath, is then a constant practice of how we can glorify God with our lives, even as we pursue justice.
There is no ‘us and them’ in welcoming one another for the glory of God, even in the welcoming of the other who may not welcome us.
Such practicing our faith then becomes our witness to a divided world. And we can do so because God is not a wrathful God but gave himself for the salvation of the world.