John 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? 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.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
God’s plan all along was heaven on earth, not earth in heaven. From beginning to end, God has been working to establish a heavenly kingdom on earth. Look at the Law, the Prophets, Jesus. All focus on lifting up the lowly, caring for the orphans and widows, protecting the weak. All call for each person to do his and her fair share, to use the gifts God has given us to work for the good of the whole community. All denounce greed, selfishness, and abuse of power. All seek wellness, wholeness for all of creation: heaven on earth.
John says this is what God’s kingdom will be like: Everyone is of equal value. Everyone is equally loved. No one has too much and no one has too little. No one goes hungry and no one gorges until their belly aches. People do not take advantage of the weak or get their way through intimidation, threats, and false accusations. Everyone is treated with respect, even our enemies. There is no distinction between males and females, Jews or Greeks, Americans or immigrants, blacks or whites, gay or straight. CEO’s, farmers, professors, field workers, and homemakers all receive the same level of honor. Heaven on earth.
No matter who we are, no matter what we have been, no matter what we have done in the past, God is offering us the opportunity to be a part of God’s everlasting kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. A kingdom where God is lifting up the lowly, and bringing down the powerful so that no one is higher or lower than anyone else. A kingdom where no one has too much and no one has too little, where justice and righteousness reign throughout the land and there is endless peace. A kingdom where all is well with all our souls. All we have to do is live into the world that has been God’s plan all along.