In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’* 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 ‘I baptize you with* water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
Nothing creates excitement and fervor about what’s coming like a loud and sometimes obnoxious spokesperson. Think about commercials you have seen lately. Immediately, I think of the new insurance company commercials; Allstate’s “Mr. Mayhem,” Geico’s R. Lee Ermey as the “Former Drill Instructor Therapist.” How about NFL linebacker Ray Lewis in the new Old Spice deodorant commercials where he talks to a bear? Loud and obnoxious (and admittedly, hilarious) to say the least. Some are downright surreal such as E-trades’ talking baby. They are sure to get worse as we are now in the holiday shopping season. Whatever your opinion of the commercial or the product, by virtue of the fact that I remember the name of the product, they have succeeded. The spokespersons use their own name recognition or other medium (in the case of these commercials, humor) in order to promote the product. This is, after all, the ultimate goal of marketing and advertising. The various spokespeople point to something other than themselves in each of the commercials for the sake of promotion of the product.
This is also precisely what John the Baptist does in our scripture reading for the second Sunday in Advent. John the Baptist was loud for sure, and some (Herod and the “brood of vipers”) probably thought he was obnoxious. John was also a little different. His clothes were made of camel’s hair and he ate “wild honey and locusts.” Those physical attributes coupled with what his message of repentance in anticipation for the coming of the Messiah, drew people from all over the region to go see him. But like a good advertiser (prophet), he was really pointing to something else; in his words, something much greater (v. 11).
John the Baptizer heralds the coming of Christ into the world. So do we as Christians. During Advent, we hold in tension Jesus’ first and second coming. We anxiously anticipate the coming of the one “whose sandals [we] are not worthy to carry.” And that is an advertisement I can believe this time of year!