Lectionary readings: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Isaiah 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18
Let us pray:
Lord, prepare the way for your coming. Prepare our hearts and our world. Speak truth to us, that we may see you coming. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I think my favorite part of our readings today is, after John the Baptist talks for awhile about unquenchable fires burning people, the judgment of God and axes cutting down the trees that aren’t good enough, the narrator concludes with, “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” Uh… sure?
I mean, the narrator’s not wrong… The coming of God is good news to our world, which is so in need of healing, but it’s hard to ignore what, according to John, it means for us: judgment and destruction. John’s message here is overwhelming, full of fire and brimstone and harsh judgments. But it doesn’t have to be.
We wait in Advent for Christ’s coming, looking forward both to the celebration of Christmas and to Christ’s coming again, just as John was waiting and preparing for Jesus to begin His ministry. John knows that waiting well and faithfully means preparing, just as we try to prepare ourselves now. Jesus’ coming is good news; the opportunity for repentance is good news.
More than that, though, is the deeper truth: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord Godis my strength and my might; he has become my salvation,” as Isaiah says (12:2). Sure, judgment is terrifying, but we do not face it alone. We are called to have, as John calls them, “fruits of repentance,” but we do not have to grow them all by ourselves. Rather, God is with us. God is our salvation. Those truths are the foundation of John’s calls for repentance, for our own attempts to live our lives well. This isn’t some talent show, where God watches and judges and we do our best to win the prize all alone up on the stage. Rather, God is with us, guiding us and giving us what we need.
I must say, I do like John’s message. The judgment bits scare me, don’t get me wrong, but then he starts answering questions: “What should we do, if you’re right and judgment is coming?” “If you have enough, give to those who don’t. Tax collectors, stop using your office to make yourself rich. Soldiers, don’t use your sword and uniform to extort people. Be content with what you have.” John doesn’t tell anyone to save the world, to go out and kick the Romans out so Israel can be independent again or revamp the corrupt worship of the Temple. No, he tells everyone who has enough to give. He tells soldiers to do their jobs. He tells tax collectors to do their jobs. He tells everyone to do good where they are, in other words. He tells everyone to love the people around them, to be just and fair to the people they meet. He tells people to not take advantage of their position to frighten and rob others. He tells people to be generous and content.
And they–and we–cannot do that without remembering: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord Godis my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” Without God as our foundation, it is difficult to remember that others are as important as we are. It is difficult to know that we have enough and to give away what we have. It is difficult to be humble in what we have, instead of standing on job titles and family connections and whatever else we are proud of. It is far easier to listen to our fear that we will never have enough, that if we give we will never be blessed with harvest or income again. And yet God is our foundation and our salvation. We can give, confident that God will watch over us, confident that God wants us to give freely.
I am reminded of this quote by Steve Maraboli: “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” We are called to love, as we wait for Christ to come and as we celebrate Christmas.
Let us love.