Of course, snakes are not something that people all feel the same way about. Some people don’t like mice, or bats, and I try very hard not to over-react when I see a spider, but snakes are a common creature that many fear. Up north here, garter snakes are not a big worry, but in the Middle East, they are often poisonous.
Isaiah’s picture of God’s recreated Eden has children playing with snakes, even babies, is completely unrealistic. I can’t help but remember the two young boys in New Brunswick three years ago that were killed by a python. Snakes are not like kittens, and this image of nature so at peace is an incredible picture. It’s such a peaceful world that our most basic instincts are changed from competitive and survival to co-existance.
Then there’s the snakes of John the Baptist, the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were coming to see what all the fuss was about, and why he was baptising out in the wilderness, a ritual that belonged in the Temple not out in the bush.
Why was this John, who frankly needed a better wardrobe and a good nutritional plan if he was going to make it as a preacher, becoming so popular, and was he a threat to their society?
The Sadducees were the Temple leaders, descendants of Zadoc the priest around at the time of King Solomon, and they oversaw all the worship that happened in the Temple. They were the elites of the day, they had job security and a good pension plan. The Pharisees were also religious leaders with more ‘middle class’ roots. They had differing ideas from the Sadducees and both parties probably acted rather like the Conservatives and Liberals, each group having their devoted followers and debating in the temple. Neither would have appreciated being called a snake.
What an insult that was. Right up there with calling someone a pig. Maybe worse. Snakes were unclean animals, and seen in scripture as the cause of humanity losing our place in the Garden of Eden. But despite that verbal attack, John didn’t bar them completely from being baptised if they wanted, but he did let them know there would be an accounting. That is something I struggle with. I want that new garden of Eden. I don’t want to change my ways though. I want it to be given to me at no cost to myself, and certainly no judgement.
I don’t want to have to face my deepest fears and let go of my need for revenge. We often think that Peace is built when that other person says they are sorry, or when they agree with us. But peace is built when justice, impartial justice says that we all have something we need to let go of, we all need God’s help to turn us from snakes and lions and wolves and hypocrites into people who can live with peace with our neighbors, family and friends.
Indie can’t reach his goal, the Ark of the Covenant, unless he goes through his snake pit to find it. We can’t reach our goals unless we are prepared to face our own demons either.
Indie did it by remembering his true mission, his passion for sharing the past with people. “It belongs in a museum”, he angrily retorts to the thieves, and so down he goes into the pit of snakes.
John the Baptist knows his goal is to prepare his people for justice, and so he calls out the big shots of his day to repent, to let go of what keeps them from the true goals of the Kingdom of Heaven, to make sure their faith is more than the fancy clothes they wear or the complicated rituals they enact or even the political debates they have. So John has the courage to dress them down in public despite the fact that they can pass judgement on him and have him executed.
What is our goal? Our congregation says that we are an inclusive Christian community enabling spiritual growth through meaningful outreach and dynamic worship.
An inclusive faith community, we continue to discover and learn how to walk in the footsteps of the living Christ, to love and serve others. We try to do this by accepting and celebrating God's unconditional love, welcoming the stranger, recognizing Christ in all life and seeking spiritual wholeness.
So this advent time, let us all continue to walk in the footsteps of John and Isaiah, learning to face our snakes and open ourselves up to God’s transformative, redeeming power. May it be so for us all.