If a priest called you a “brood of vipers” at your baptism, would you have still gone through with it?

December 16 marks my three year anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I cherish the many sacred moments I’ve had so far. One such moment was when we as a church welcome people to Christ through baptism.

I start off by saying that baptism is not just some rite of passage that takes place on a single day. It is the start of our lifelong journey with Christ. That we are a people grounded in the Good News.

Yet in all my experience as a baptizer, not once did I share in the same experience we find in Luke:

John (the Baptist) said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

As a priest, my hope for the baptized is a joy-filled life in Christ. As a church leader, my hope is that they might become a contributing members of this congregation.

Baptisms are happy, nurturing moments. Not opportunities for hazing people to convert.

I have no desire to be one of those finger-wagging, Bible-thumping Christians. But John did it without hesitation or guilt. It leaves me wondering if tough love was a part of pastoral care in the first century.

If a priest today called you a “brood of vipers” at your baptism, would you still go through with the sacrament? I bet you would feel insulted and discouraged so early in your faith.

I have a hard time with justifying the spiritual need to insult someone at one’s baptism. But listen to what John says next:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin 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. Even 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” (Luke 3:7-18)

What you find in John’s words are important elements of a vibrant faith.

Faith is about seeking truth in your life, even if it hurts. We want to lead happy lives free of criticism or judgement. But not at the expense of deluding ourselves. The truth about ourselves might hurt, but if it helps us to grow into better people then so be it.

Faith is not something we are born into or earned. It is given by God. We might call ourselves some title that associates us with God. But God himself can “raise up children to Abraham” without our help or guidance.

Faith reveals itself through our bearing fruits worthy of repentance. We see faith in action through deeds such as humility, forgiveness, patience and kindness.

During this season of Advent, let us prepare our hearts for the Lord. Let us not be content with who we are. Let us always dig deep and question our goodness. Let us all strive to know God’s heart in all seasons. Let us not let our faith go to waste.

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