When my son was in first grade he came home to tell me that his teacher had kept the whole class in from recess again because a few boys would not stop talking. When I called, the teacher confirmed that my son Mark was not among the wrong doers and that she sometimes keeps the whole class in for a consequence. I told her that if my son was doing wrong he should be punished, but if he was not then he needs to go to recess, to do otherwise is to be unjust. Justice demands giving to others what is their due. Many times in our fallen world there are injustices, but to the degree that we can help it, we must be just because God is just. He gives to each what is their due–both rewards and punishment…heaven and hell.
Today’s readings speak of warning, repentance, and consequences. St. Augustine of Hippo said, “Don’t imagine that you love your children when you never discipline them, or that you love your neighbors when you never admonish them. This isn’t love, but mere weakness. Let your love be eager to correct, to reform.” God is love and God is just.
We live in a time when the leaders of homes, of schools, and of governments have become weak. In a misdirected and misunderstood desire to show love and mercy, we have failed to love and teach justice. If we are going to truly love, first justice, then mercy. First the truth of consequences for wrongful actions, and then generosity and support while those consequences are endured.
John the Baptist cries out, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” John the Baptism was one who cried out in the desert admonishing and encouraging others (sometimes harshly) to change their ways! He says they need to get their life in order–and so do we. That’s the warning for this Sunday in Advent. Make straight paths! Enough of this hem hawing and meandering about. We need to be of one purpose, one heart and mind, and passionately driven toward the gates of heaven. Too often we are divided in our allegiance to God and to this world.
St. John said, “[Jesus’] 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.” When wheat is cracked both the plasticy shell and the grain fall to the threshing floor. The shell, called chaff, is light and easily blown by the wind. The winnowing fan separates the wheat from the chaff. The wheat is gathered in, the chaff burned. That’s the consequence for living unlovingly, worldly, and opposed to God, namely, hell, the unquenchable fire. There are but two options for all eternity–life or damnation–and each of us has a choice. The consequences are real and God is just. He will give us our due. Is it any wonder St. John and Jesus are always warning their hearers to repent? They’re both giving us a chance!
The evidence of our true repentance is a change of life. It’s a change of the way we do things. St. John says, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance…every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” The fruit of the Christian life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Do we have this evidence in our life? What needs to change? What have we been caught up in, addicted to, neglected, or ignored? This is the time. It’s time to begin again, get back on track again, attend reconciliation, get right with our family and with God, and produce the fruit of the Spirit filled life.
God is love, but God is just. We’ve been warned. We need to repent. There will be consequences. Believe it.