Now you might think the title of my article is a bit odd as we enter the season of Advent, but the Gospel from Matthew (3:1-12) for Second Advent, with John the Baptist proclaiming “you brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come…every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” reminded me of Cousin Amos from the movie Cold Comfort Farm and his sermon. After telling his congregation a story about how when they burn their hand on a hot pan they run and put a bit of butter on the burn – how it takes away the pain, he concludes his sermon “well there ain’t no butter in Hell.” Cousin Amos believed folks were sinful and somebody needed to tell them they were going to hell. John the Baptist seems to have that same opinion, although he does offer the possibility of repentance, turning one’s life around and bearing good fruit.
As a kid, Advent was a time of anticipation – anticipation of the Baby Jesus and Christmas presents, a happy joyous time. I went back to my old 1928 prayer book and checked the lectionary – sure enough we heard this passage from Matthew with John the Baptist’s exhortation during Advent. Somehow the business about preparing for Jesus’ second coming and repentance didn’t make it into my thoughts. Actually, it’s probably only been the last 15-20 years that the Gospels for Advent have finally made a dent in my hard head – that Advent is much more than remembering Christ’s birth – that it is a penitential season where we are to prepare our hearts and lives for Jesus return.
It isn’t enough to say we love the baby, but sort of forget about what Jesus had to say about how we were to live our lives. Living lives so we are prepared – whenever the end comes and we stand before our Lord. Now I clearly believe in grace, but that doesn’t mean a free pass, rather it takes work on our part, whenever we stumble and turn away from the path Jesus would have us follow, we have to recognize our errors and get back on the path.
I tend to like things kept simple – and the path we are to travel is simply laid out in what we vowed in our baptism – persevering in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and striving for justice and peace. So that at the end our day’s it won’t matter if cousin Amos was correct that there ain’t no butter in Hell.