Does Jesus Come with an Axe?

Homily, Does Jesus Come with an Axe?
Second Sunday of Advent, Year C, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Tequesta, FL

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Anyone started watching Christmas movies yet?

I love a good Christmas movie. Last weekend my family started with Elf. I heard Rudolph was on prime time this past week. One of my favorites growing up was The Santa Claus with Tim Allen. Have you seen that movie?

It’s about a dad who slowly becomes Santa Claus after the real Santa falls off his roof. He starts out being this grumpy, stiff business man at a toy company and ends up being that good ‘ole jolly St. Nick we all know and love. 

Right in the middle of the movie there’s a scene where he’s in a business meeting at his toy company in which they are developing a Christmas commercial for a new toy, a battle tank. Do you remember this scene?

The presenter pulls out a story board with Santa at the north pole and he begins, “This year Santa’s not going out in his sleigh. This year he’s going Total Tank!” And the next story board is a picture of Santa sitting in this toy battle tank surrounded by elves. 

And of course, Scott, the dad who is becoming more and more like Santa Claus, immediately objects, “Wait a minute! There’s no way Santa is going anywhere without his sleigh and even if he would, what would it say about Santa if he visits all the little boys and girls of the world in a war machine?” You know, he’s got a point. It doesn’t sound like the Santa I know. 

I can’t help but think of that scene when I read our gospel passage for today. In it the wild John the Baptist is out in the wilderness baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins and preaching a message of repentance. He speaks about one who is to come (Jesus) with axe in hand ready to chop down those who produce bad fruit. He speaks about one who is to come (Jesus) with a winnowing fork, ready to separate the wheat from the chaff which he will burn with unquenchable fire. 

It’s a passage I know well and have heard through the years over and over, and yet I still find myself thinking: “It doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know.” The Jesus who comes eating and drinking with sinners and tax collectors. The Jesus who forgives sins. The Jesus who offers himself on the cross. It doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know.

Does Jesus come with an axe? Or was John wrong? 

The images used in today’s first reading from Isaiah 11, I get. Rather than talk about cutting down trees, the passage speaks about new life coming from cut down trees. A shoot will rise up from the stump of Jesse. A branch shall grow out of its roots. 

See Isaiah and his contemporaries were no strangers to ruin and destruction. It loomed on their borders at all times. And with all their good and righteous kings long gone, Isaiah and others started praying for one to come who would take away the ruin and destruction and bring new life to the smoldering ashes around them. Someone from the line of King David and his father Jesse who would usher in a new era. A new reign of God.

That’s a prayer I can get behind. When we look at all the destruction in the world around us, all the cut down trees, that’s a prayer that’s ever on my lips. Lord, Christ, come and bring new life to this world. 

And while John’s message proclaims the coming of God’s reign and beckons us to prepare ourselves, I’m just not sure about this language of cutting down trees and throwing them into the fire. It sounds like Santa Claus coming in a battle tank. 

The images used in Isaiah 11 I get. Rather than talking about separating wheat and chaff, Isaiah speaks about bringing together the wolf and the lamb, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear. 

In Isaiah’s day division was rampant. The kingdom of Israel was split in two. The Assyrian Empire was looming and no one agreed about what to do about it. But in the midst of it Isaiah offered a vision of a coming king who would usher in a new era of peace so that the kingdom would be reunified and it would live in friendship with its impending enemies to the north. The wolf and lamb would lie down together. 

That’s a vision I long for. When we look at all the division in our own world, political, national, racial, financial, that’s a vision that we need. Lord, Christ come and bring peace and unity to this world. 

And while John’s message calls for the very repentance necessary to bring peace into the world, I’m just not sure about this language of separating chaff from wheat and burning it with unquenchable fire. It sounds like Santa Claus coming in a battle tank.

This is the season of Advent. The season in which we name the darkness we see in the world and give voice to the craving of our hearts for new life, for healing, for peace in the world. 

This is the season of Advent. The season in which we hope and pray for the coming of Christ, the prince of peace.

And the voice of one crying out in the wilderness beckons us today to make ready the path and prepare our hearts. And so we must ask ourselves, what is Christ’s vision for the world? With what does he come? Does he come to cut down or to give life? Does he come to separate or to bring together? 

Does Jesus come with an axe? Or was John wrong?

I’m not going to answer the question today. Instead, I invite you to think about it, and join me next week as we continue to wrestle with this question. Amen.