Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
December 8, 2013
Is 11:1-10, Ps 72, Rom 15:4-9, Mt 3:1-12
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click here:
The following was the starting text for the homily:
Facing and overcoming the obstacles
Last week, on the first Sunday of Advent, we began a new year in the Church. Advent is a time of spiritual reawakening and growth, a call to get up, get excited and get moving. Jesus is coming toward us and we’re called to go out to meet him as dynamic, intentional Catholic disciples, those who make and keep a commitment to encounter Jesus each day in prayer, to learn from him continuously, to receive his generosity and share it by sacrificing ourselves and our goods for him and others, and to invite others joyfully to come meet Jesus with us in the all these ways.
But for us and others to have this renewed, life-changing encounter with Jesus, we first have to confront and overcome the obstacles that might be in the way between the Lord and us. Winter travelers know that despite the best hopes and plans for family reunions over Thanksgiving or Christmas, storms can arise making it impossible for planes to fly or for cars to travel safely. Similar storms and roadblocks can come up spiritually and they can make more difficult or impossible Jesus’ coming to us and our going to him. Some of those obstacles can be other people who block us from seeing Jesus just like the crowds blocked the short tax collector Zacchaeus. Other impediments can be certain commitments that take up so much of our time that we feel we do not have adequate time of God. There can also be hindrances that distract us away from the journey, like so many forms of entertainment that can take us off the road of that encounter with Jesus. But the biggest barrier of all is, of course, our sins and the way we hold on to our sins rather than allow the Lord Jesus to take them away.
That’s why, on the Second Sunday of Advent each year, in order to help us make a totally fresh start, God sends us the same person he sent to get the people of Israel ready to encounter, embrace and follow his Son Jesus when Jesus finally revealed himself at the Jordan River. If we’re going to be able to be able to complete the journey to meet Jesus who is coming to meet us, we need to eliminate from the path of mutual encounter all of the debris lying in the way. St. John the Baptist announces, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” And he tells us what’s involved in that road repair: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
In the ancient world, the dirt roads were a mess. Every time there was a battle, the roads would be attacked and bridges destroyed, to try to stop the advance of the enemy. The weather took its toll as well, leading to all types of serious potholes and other obstacles. Any time a dignitary would be coming, they would have either to fix the roads or build new ones so that the rolling caravan accompanying the dignitary could arrive without delay or hassle. St. John the Baptist is telling us that to get ready for the Lord who is coming this Advent, we, too, need to prepare a road for him. We, too, need to make straight the paths.
2000 years ago, preparing such a path meant a great deal of manual work, making crooked paths straight, rough ways smooth, and even charting paths through the forests, mountains and valleys. For us, that pathway will not be traced on the ground, but within. It will not be made in the wilderness, but in our day-to-day life. It’s not something that will make our hands dirty, but our souls clean. St. John the Baptist indicated the necessary road repair quoting the prophet Isaiah: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth” (Lk 3:5). He’s calling us to level the mountains of our pride and egocentrism, to fill in the valleys that come from a shallow prayer life and a minimalistic way of living our faith, and to straighten out whatever crooked, sinful paths we’ve been walking. This work won’t be accomplished principally by willpower and elbow grease, but by God’s power and amazing grace. The way we receive this help of God to cleanse the path between Jesus and us of the worst obstacles of all is the Sacrament of Confession. We need to be as attentive clearing the way for Christ through this Sacrament as highway workers are to removing dead deer from the high-speed lane.
The Echo of the Voice of One Crying Out in the Wilderness
That’s the message St. John the Baptist gives us every Second Sunday of Advent. But this year the call to make straight the paths, to repent and live fully with Christ in his kingdom has been getting echoed in a very powerful way by the man elected on March 13 to be Christ’s earthly vicar. Since Pope Francis’ election, by far his main message has been about God’s mercy and our need for it.
A few weeks ago there were lots of news reports on how Pope Francis is by far the number one searched name on the internet. More people are using Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask and other top search engines to find out about him than about any other figure. When news came out about Pope Francis’ topping the list, I was called by various reporters to get my reaction. One journalist asked me, perceptively, whether I thought Pope Francis’ popularity was a good or a bad thing for the Church. I replied that, in and of itself, his celebrity is a great opportunity. Whether it turns out to be a good or bad thing, however, depends on whether people get beyond his celebrity status to ponder his words and example.
I told the journalist that my sense is that many of those who are fascinated by Pope Francis readily say that the reason they “love” him is because they don’t think he judges them or is as interested as they believe most leaders of the Church are in getting them and the world to convert on those subjects where popular opinion and Church teaching aren’t aligned. Many seem to portray him as if he’s indulgently unconcerned with whether people are sinning, professing himself incapable of judging their behavior. But the real Pope Francis has been preaching incessantly about mercy and, to do so, clearly suggests that we need God’s mercy. If we need God’s mercy, the reason is because we’re sinners. Pope Francis, in preaching beautifully about mercy, is calling all of us to ponder our need for it, to trust in it, and to come to receive it. The real litmus test of whether the Pope Francis’ celebrity turns out to be a good or a bad thing for the Church depends on whether we and others do more than “like” or “love” him but follow his Christian words and example, above all with regard to God’s mercy. The Pope is interested not in winning popularity contests, but in saving people in the great field hospital of the Church. He would doubtless prefer to be unliked and reluctantly followed than liked and benignly ignored. So the question for people in general and for Catholics in particular is: do we like Pope Francis enough, do we trust enough in his goodness and holiness, to heed his words?
This Second Sunday of Advent is a good day to focus on what Pope Francis has been saying to us about God’s mercy and our need for it, because he, just like St. John the Baptist, is trying to get us through repentance, conversion and confession to make straight the paths for Christ to come.
Pope Francis’ call to Confession
Last week in the bulletin I printed what Pope Francis said in his November 13 Wednesday catechesis to the 70,000 people assembled in St. Peter’s Square. “The Sacrament of Penance or Confession is,” he said, “like a ‘second baptism’ that refers back always to the first to strengthen and renew it. In this sense, the day of our Baptism is the point of departure for this most beautiful journey, a journey towards God that lasts a lifetime, a journey of conversion that is continually sustained by the Sacrament of Penance.” That’s the journey we relaunch each Advent to go out to meet Christ who is coming to us. The Sacrament of Penance is a gift, he said, meant to be one of the most beautiful experiences of our life. “When we go to confess our weaknesses, our sins, we go to ask the pardon of Jesus, but we also go to renew our Baptism through his forgiveness,” he said. “And this is beautiful, it is like celebrating the day of Baptism in every Confession. Therefore, Confession is not a matter of sitting down in a torture chamber, rather it is a celebration. Confession is for the baptized! [It helps] to keep clean the white garment of our Christian dignity!”
He added that it’s important for us to accept that Jesus founded this Sacrament to work through the ministry of the same priests through him he gives us his Body and Blood. “The priest,” he said, “is the instrument for the forgiveness of sins. God’s forgiveness is given to us in the Church, it is transmitted to us by means of the ministry of our brother, the priest. He, too, is a man who, like us, is in need of mercy. … Priests and bishops too have to go to confession: we are all sinners. Even the Pope confesses every fifteen days, because the Pope is also a sinner. And the confessor hears what I tell him, he counsels me and forgives me, because we are all in need of this forgiveness. Sometimes you hear someone claiming to confess directly to God… As I said before, God is always listening, but in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he sends a brother to bestow his pardon, the certainty of forgiveness, in the name of the Church.”
He finished by asking some poignant questions: “Dear brothers and sisters, as members of the Church are we conscious of the beauty of this gift that God himself offers us? Do we feel the joy of this cure? … Through the ministry of priests he holds us close in a new embrace and regenerates us and allows us to rise again and resume the journey. For this is our life: to rise again continuously and to resume our journey!”
No matter how many times we fall into sinful potholes, no matter how dirty we get along the way, the Sacrament of Confession, the Pope indicates, is the means by which God continually picks us up, cleans us off and, in fact, raises us from spiritual death. The Pope goes to confession every two weeks because he knows that he needs God’s help to clear the road, to be reborn, so that he can continue the journey of following Christ and inspire us to join him. I go to confession every week so that I, too, can “run forth with haste” to meet Christ and more effectively bring Him to you and guide you to Him.
Sinners looked at with loving mercy
Francis recognizes that he is a sinner in need of God’s mercy and he wants to help us all to see that we are sinners loved by God. You may recall the tremendous interview with Pope Francis published on September 19 by America magazine and other Jesuit publications around the world. In the first question by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, he was asked,“Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio.” He could have easily said, “I’m a son of Buenos Aires,” or “I’m a Jesuit priest,” or “I’m the new Bishop of Rome,” But instead he replied, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech or a literary genre. I am a sinner…The best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” He went on to say, “I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [“The Lord in having mercy upon him chose him,” said by the Venerable Bede about St. Matthew], was very true for me. … This is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff: … Peccator sum, sed super misericordia et infinita patientia Domini nostri Jesu Christi confisus et in spiritu penitentiae accepto,” Latin for, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” The fact that he is a sinner loved by God is absolutely central to his self-identity.
Mercy and Vocation
It’s also central to the discovery of his vocation, which was a total shock to him revealed as he received the Sacrament of Confession as a teenager. He was 16 years old. It was September 21, 1953, a national holiday in Argentina called Students’ Day to celebrate the first day of Spring in the southern hemisphere. Listen to him tell the story as he related it to 200,000 in St. Peter’s Square on the Vigil of Pentecost earlier this year: “It was ‘Students’ Day,’ for us the first day of spring — for you the first day of autumn. Before going to the celebration I passed through the parish I normally attended. I found a priest that I did not know and I felt the need to go to confession. For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that Someone was waiting for me.Yet I do not know what happened, I can’t remember, I do not know why that particular priest was there whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess, but the truth is that Someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest. This experience of faith is important. We say we must seek God, go to him and ask forgiveness, but when we go, he is waiting for us, he is there first! In Spanish we have a word that explains this well: primerear — the Lord always gets there before us, he gets there first, he is waiting for us! To find someone waiting for you is truly a great grace! You go to him as a sinner, but he is waiting to forgive you.”
The Kairos of Mercy
Pope Francis wants us all to experience this great grace, that the Lord’s mercy is greater than our misery, that like the Father of the Prodigal Son, he is always waiting for our return, so that he can restore us to our full inheritance as his beloved sons and daughters. I remember how powerful his first Sunday Angelus address was, four days after his election. With 300,000 people in and around St. Peter’s Square, the first big message he wanted to give us was about confidence in God’s merciful love. He said, “Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think – and I say it with humility – that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy..… The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace not to tire of asking forgiveness, because he never tires of forgiving.”
When he was returning from World Youth Day in Brazil at the end of July, he said at the very end of his 80-minute interview with reporters traveling on the plane with him, “I believe that this is a kairos. This time is a kairos [a special moment] of mercy.” He said that this was a special insight of Blessed John Paul II who, in promoting the devotion of Divine Mercy through the beatification and canonization of St. Faustina “had intuited that this was a need in our time.” Pope John Paul had said that he thought that the biggest problem facing the world was “unexpiated guilt.” After the most murderous century in human history, involving the Nazis, the Communists and so many other genocides, the world doesn’t know what to do with its accumulated guilt. Just like those who are abused in childhood are more likely to abuse themselves when they become older, so those who have unforgiven guilt often just turn on others as well, “sinning down” to be at a despicable level where everyone else treats them like they themselves feel. No amount of psychiatrists, psychologists and psychoanalysts are able to take this guilt away. They may help people to understand it, categorize it and deal with it, but they can’t take it away. And it festers like a cancer within them, within their relationships, and within society. The only way it can be taken away is in the way God himself established. That’s why our age is a special “kairos of mercy,” when we really need to return with gratitude and frequency to receive this grace.
One area in which I have seen this truth about the destructive quality of unexpiated guilt is in marriages that are on the rocks. Over the course of my priesthood, I have counseled dozens of married couples who have come to see me, often as a last resort, when things in their marriage reached the breaking point. I normally begin by hearing each side of the story and asking them to respond to a few basic questions so that I can see what they once loved about each other, what they still love about each other, what the problems are, when the problems began, and why they haven’t been able to overcome those difficulties up until now. In almost every case, each of the spouses thinks that most or all of the blame for their difficulties lies with the other person. At the end of our first session, I always ask a question: “When was the last time each of you went to Confession?” In every single couple I’ve ever helped, at least one of the two told me that he or she hadn’t been to confession in many years. In the majority of cases, neither of them had gone for years or decades. I normally tell them that it makes sense that they’re having trouble forgiving each other — either for big sins against their union or the accumulation of many small hurts — because if they’re not regularly examining their consciences and coming to beg God for forgiveness, their hearts will become hardened to extending forgiveness to each other. When we’re not regularly prayerfully reviewing our own sins in preparation for a good Confession, we start to live out Jesus’ parable of the plank and the speck, not noticing the logs — or even whole forests of sins — in our own eyes and instead obsessing about the specks in another. On the other hand, when both spouses regularly come to Confession, they grow in humility and they grow in the capacity to forgive. It’s in the Sacrament of Confession that we learn the depth of God’s loving mercy and are enriched with the capacity to share that merciful love with others. Good confessions, of course, don’t solve all the problems that can plague a married couple, but it is one of the most important things couples need to do if they hope to save their marriages. And this truth about the importance of the Sacrament of Confession for marriages also obtains for friendships, for communities, and for whole cultures. If we don’t expiate our guilt through receiving God’s expiating forgiveness, then that guilt not only harms us but harms all our bonds.
One of the most beautiful things that can happen to us
The last thing I want to ponder about God’s mercy and our need for it Pope Francis said in a book-length interview back in 2010 (El Jesuita). There he said something quite shocking. “For me, feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen,” he said, “if it leads to its ultimate consequences,” the reception of God’s mercy and the discovery that his mercy is greater than our sins. At the Easter Vigil, the future pope says, we sing “O Felix culpa,” exulting in the “happy sin” that brought us to experience the love of the Redeemer. “When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus,” Cardinal Bergoglio stated, “he proclaims this truth to himself and discovers the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field. He discovers the greatest thing in life: that there is someone who loves him profoundly, who gave his life for him.”
He lamented that many Catholics have sadly not had this fundamental Christian experience. “There are people who believe the right things, who have received catechesis and accepted the Christian faith in some way, but who do not have the experience of having been saved.” He then gave a powerful metaphor of what the true experience of God’s mercy is like. “It’s one thing when people tell us a story about someone’s risking his life to save a boy drowning in the river. It’s something else when I’m the one drowning and someone gives his life to save me.” That’s what Christ did for us to save us from the eternal watery grave of the deluge of sin. That’s what we should celebrate every day of our life, just like someone whose life has been saved by a hero would never be able to forget it, not to mention thank him enough. Unfortunately, he said, “There are people to whom you tell the story who don’t see it, who don’t want to see, who don’t want to know what happened to that boy, or who always have escape hatches from the situation of drowning and who therefore lack the experience of who they are. I believe that only we great sinners have this grace.” We will never be able to appreciate the love of the Savior until we recognize how much we needed to be saved. We’ll only grasp this when we grasp the depth of our sins, which is why, in order to get off to make straight the paths to meet Christ this Advent, we need to begin with the Sacrament in which our sins encounter Christ’s saving absolution.
St. Bernadette’s ongoing mission
I want to finish by linking this message of the Second Sunday of Advent to tomorrow’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, and how our patroness, St. Bernadette, is intrinsically involved in both messages. Mary appeared 18 times to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858, but in about half of those, Mary made an explicit call to Bernadette to have a special mission for those in need of God’s mercy. On February 21, St. Bernadette asked the “Beautiful Lady” (she didn’t yet know her identity for sure), why she looked so sad. The Lady replied, “Pray for sinners!” Three days later, Mary said to her, “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners!” She was making her own St. John the Baptist’s words calling us all to repentance and calling St. Bernadette to pray that sinners would in fact convert. A few days later, she repeated those words and asked Bernadette to humble herself for the conversion of sinners: “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Go, kiss the ground for the conversion of sinners. Go and tell the priests to have a chapel built here,” so that confessions could be heard and so that the sacrifice of her Son in the Eucharist, given for the remission of sins, would be able to be celebrated there. The next day, she said those same words again and asked Bernadette anew to kiss the ground for the conversion of sinners.” This was Our Lady’s principal message in Lourdes.
After all of that prayer and humble mortification for the conversion of sinners, Mary finally revealed her name during the sixteenth apparition. When St. Bernadette, prodded by her pastor and the bishop, asked the Beautiful Lady for her name, Mary didn’t reply, “Mary of Nazareth,” or “The Mother of Jesus,” or even “Your mother.” She folded her hands in front of her breast, looked up to heaven, and said in the local patois, “Que soy era Immaculado Conceptiou” — “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This title points to the fact that from the first moment of Mary’s life on earth, she was, by God’s grace, totally separated from sin. She was the fulfillment of the prophetic proto-Gospel in the Book of Genesis when God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” From the first moment of her existence, Mary had this enmity, this hatred, for the devil and for sin. She constantly sought to strike at his head, as we see depicted in the statue of Our Lady here in the sanctuary. Likewise, her Offspring-with-a-capital-O, Jesus, stomped on the devil, on sin, on evil. But when Jesus was dying on the Cross to defeat the devil’s power once-and-for-all, he turned to Mary and said, referring to the beloved disciple who represented us all, “Behold your Mother!,” and to her, “Behold your Son!” From that day on, Mary was especially committed to helping us have a similar enmity toward sin. And she recruited St. Bernadette to pray, to humble herself, and even to suffer for the conversion of sinners, so that we might go from being enslaved by the serpent, to having true enmity for the devil, his evil works and his empty promises.
St. Bernadette’s mission didn’t end when Mary stopped appearing to her. It didn’t end even when her earthly life came to a close 21 years later. Just as the Blessed Mother has never ceased to try to bring us all to true repentance so, I’m convinced, St. Bernadette has never ceased to pray for sinners to recognize their need for God’s mercy and come to receive it. And without question she has a special mission of prayer for all of us here at the parish dedicated under her patronage.
We have a beautiful statue of St. Bernadette here in our sanctuary. Since I obtained her from France, I’ve placed her next to the Tabernacle as a sign that I’ve been asking her to lead us all in adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She’s a great teacher about the importance of the Eucharist. She couldn’t read and because of pastoral neglect, she wasn’t prepared to make her first Holy Communion until after Mary had appeared to her. After she had received Jesus for the first time, a woman named Mademoiselle Estrade asked her, “What made you happier, Bernadette, first Holy Communion or the Apparitions?” Bernadette replied with words that we should never forget: “The two go together. They cannot be compared. I only know that I was very happy on both occasions.” With her simple wisdom, Bernadette points all of us to something really important. St. Bernadette is famous today because God chose her to be the recipient of Mary’s apparitions, but she was clearly indicating that the gift each of us receives in Holy Communion is just as important. (I actually think it’s even more important to receive Jesus, the Son of God, than his mother, but insofar as both were special gifts of the same divine Giver, it’s acceptable to equate them). Does each of us, however, treat the reception of Holy Communion each Sunday or each day as a gift as valuable as a rare apparition of the Blessed Mother that would make us famous 155 years after our death?
As important as it is for us regularly to see St. Bernadette reminding us of this truth by her presence next to the Tabernacle, I’m going to be moving her for the rest of Advent so that all of us may have a visual reminder of what she’s begging God to give each of us. I’m going to place her next to the confessionals in the back of the Church and ask her to continue to pray for all of us here until each one of us repents, each one of us recognizes the gift of God’s mercy, each one of us makes straight the paths for Christ to come to us. Each time you see her back by the Confessional, or each time you look toward the tabernacle and fail to see her, please remember that she is continuing the same mission Mary entrusted to her, praying for the conversion of sinners, praying for your conversion and mine.
Heeding the message of the four great witnesses
Today we have heard the same message from St. John the Baptist, from Pope Francis, from Our Lady of Lourdes, and from St. Bernadette. At the beginning of this new liturgical year, God wants to give us all a spiritual rebirth, but the path to experience that joy is the path marked out by these four great witnesses. They all proclaim to us what we sang in the beautiful hymn with which we began Mass today: “Then cleansed be every soul from sin / Make straight the way of God within. / Prepare we in our hearts a home / Where such a mighty Guest may come!” That mighty Guest is coming. Let us allow him to take off of us the shackles of sin through the best confession of our life, so that we can run to meet him, and the run with him all the way up the path to the heavenly Jerusalem! Amen!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.
PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
he shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.
In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed;
all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant you to think in harmony with one another,
in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,
for the glory of God.
For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised
to show God’s truthfulness,
to confirm the promises to the patriarchs,
but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
As it is written:
Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles
and sing praises to your name.
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”