Parish Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, Littlemore
The Window, Sunday, 9th of December 2012
“You Brood of Vipers”
Those are the words with which Saint John the Baptist, of whom we think on this Second Sunday of Advent, greeted the crowds that came out to be baptised by him. You can’t help thinking that for all his holiness, austerity, and prophetic vision, Saint John wasn’t much of a salesman. And yet they came, in great numbers, including Jesus himself, in search of salvation and the washing away of sins. John was that uncomfortably attractive figure – the person who says deeply unpleasant things in a way you just can’t help listening to. His message was stark, and frightening – there’s trouble ahead, and unless you mend your ways, you’re going to be in it. Those first “vipers” must have thought they were on to a quick-fix, but John doesn’t offer that. His baptism is for those who repent, a word which means “change”. Most of us have had encounters with people who’ve suggested – with varying degrees of gentleness – that to move onto the next stage of our journey, we’re going to have to change. We often don’t want to hear, but their words ring in our ears, for days, or months, or even years. That’s a part of what prophecy is about – saying the words that we cannot help hearing, even though we’d rather not, and pretend we haven’t. John’s is a difficult – and dangerous – example to follow. Sometimes we can think we are telling people home truths, when in reality, we are just being spiteful. This sort of prophetic ministry needs to be rooted in deep prayer and holiness, and the occasional spell of locusts and wild honey in the desert. God give us courage to speak when we must, grace to speak kindly when we do, and if the Spirit is not with us, not to speak at all.