John the Baptist is one of my favourite biblical characters, because he doesn’t “water down” the challenge of God’s word, but “says it like it is.” He has received an insight into the insincerity of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were great on external rituals (including things like John’s water baptism,) but they’re lacking of internal contrition. This should give us cause to pause, and reflect on our own internal “heart condition.”
The image of the “axe” is especially powerful. We all know what axes do: topple trees of all sizes, usually tall and mature trees. Those tall trees are symbols of “pride” in the eyes of the prophets, and as they say, pride goeth before the fall…
John is not limited to pious anger, as he’s also full of hope -- just like Isaiah in the First Reading (Is 11:1-10). When the axe is used, the tree is destroyed. But out of that destruction can come new life, as the remaining and humbled “stump” or remnant can now develop into the true covenant relationship that the Lord seeks. Once we cleanse ourselves of our pride by repentance, confession and absolution, our hearts can be focused on and filled with the One who longs to be the centre of our lives. John prepares the way by pointing to the “fruit of the Jesse tree,” the One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Surely we aren’t so proud that we can’t bear to hear the Truth that our church Bishops (the Magisterium) teaches us, in achieving its mandate from Jesus Christ. If that’s the case, then we need to repent of our pride, the parent of all sins. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven if one repents with a true heart – It’s a real gift that we receive through the blood of Christ Friends, make this Advent a season of “tree-felling” and new growth in your life.