“You brood of vipers” – nobody’s Christmas card conveys that message. And yet everyone’s does. John’s indictment echoes God’s appraisal of his people – all people. It’s a judgment Jesus would share: “If you, though you are evil…” Our text reminds: there is need for peace on earth and in our souls because we have sown war. God draws near not only out of his own overflowing love but our radical need. And his coming takes the fleshly shape it does because from our hearts of stone God would raise true children of Abraham. It is a baptism of the Holy Spirit, a circumcision of the heart, that is required, for the fruit of our repentance is, time and again, rotten. He whom John proclaims will bear the fruit we could not, not extorting but emptying himself of riches for our sakes, not bearing false witness but enduring it, not seeking his due but becoming servant of all, sharing his clothes with all us naked; his body with all us hungry.
This, Luke and the prophets tell us, is good news. It is good news. Brood of vipers, we may be, but we have not been abandoned to our own grasping, evil devices, God has come, in our midst. Lifted up, bearing our wretched, serpentine form and the cost of our empty penitence, for this he came into the world. By this we might bear new fruit from our new hearts. Our fortunes restored – and more – before our eyes and the eyes of a doubtful world.