It is always the ‘little’ words that make the difference.
This passage starts (second word in Greek) with ‘therefore’ or ‘so’ or ‘then’ (in the meaning that what comes follows necessarily from what went before). Sadly not all our translations have it.
This little word links the “salvation of God” from verse 6 very closely with the “wrath to come” of verse 7. ‘Are they the same thing?’ you have to wonder and ‘how are they the same?’ John makes the “way of the Lord”, the “straight paths” the “filled valleys” the “low mountains” the “crooked” that becomes “straight” and the “rough” that will be “smooth” all very concrete in his demand for sharing your coats and food and being content. It is amazing that for John and his hearers clearly the “burning of the chaff” (v17) is “good news” (v18).
Clearly the peaceful messiah we are awaiting also comes with judgement. I wonder: what is the judgement he comes with to us this Christmas. I wonder how that judgement is good news for us. I wonder how John would have responded to our question: “What then (the little word again) should we do?” I imagine that it will depend on our context just as in the text he has a different answers for soldiers and tax-collectors.
13 December 2015
This weekly blog on one of the lectionary readings is by Anne Claar Thomasson-Rosingh, Programme Leader for Lifelong Learning at Sarum College.