So, who is coming this Advent? Which Jesus? Is it Jesus the shoot from the stump, signal of hope and transformation into peace, or is it Jesus the one bearing the axe, the winnowing fork, the bringer of fire? The answer is Yes–both. At the same time, the answer is Neither. Jesus surprises people by what he does not do–Jesus does not conquer the earth with military force, become king, bring absolute order. Jesus also surprises people by what he does do–Jesus does bring diverse people together into one community, lead by going to the cross to suffer and die, send people out to transform the world through preaching.
Jesus did say things that separated people. Some people followed; others went away sadly. People very different from one another were brought together. If we need evidence of these major differences, we could consider all the fighting among the earliest churches. Sworn enemies, like Peter and Paul, had to come into a room together and work out an arrangement for how to go forward together. This is probably a good image of work we might do as a church in this Advent season. But it’s not just about our work. It’s about the work God is doing among us.
It is not just that Jesus came once upon a time and these things happened. Jesus comes among us today, once again, and these things happen. We get to witness them–to see, talk about, and share these things. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees we are challenged by John’s words to put ourselves on a straight path of changing whatever berhavior impedes God’s vision of peace and harmony.