Matthew 3:1-12 (NRSV)
Chapter 3In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, Verse 2"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Verse 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" Verse 4Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Verse 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, Verse 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Verse 7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Verse 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Verse 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Verse 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Verse 11"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Verse 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Have you ever received a gift that didn't look like what was inside? Maybe someone put a really small gift in a big box. Or maybe someone you didn't expect would give you a gift surprised you with something meaningful. Today's Gospel reading offers a very precious gift given by someone few people expected to be a gift-giver.
John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin, lived out in the wilderness on the margins of his society. God's Spirit called him to point out what other people couldn't see: that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus is the gift of God's kingdom showing up on earth. The kingdom of heaven came to us through a man born to a poor, relatively insignificant family. The kingdom of heaven came to us from a town no one thought important. This gift didn't look like many people expected. Jesus is a gift that doesn't come in the normal box.
Jesus, help us to receive the gift you are offering to us, even if it doesn't come in the way we might expect. Help us to notice where your kingdom is breaking into our everyday lives. Amen.