The semester is nearly done. I have two finals, then we're off to be with family for Christmas in Rochester, NY and New Years in RI. When we return in Jan., then I will be spending 2 1/2 weeks (3 Sundays) in Western MD/WV for my Jan. term.
Today I supplied at Bender's Lutheran Church in Biglerville, PA, where I have spent the fall semester. The text was Luke 3:7-18 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=127729731.
Most of you know Amity, my husband, Ray’s Seeing Eye dog. She is half-black lab and half-golden retriever. Some of her physical and emotional traits are those of a lab, while others are those of a golden. Now we know she is a cross of only these two breeds, but she often acts as though she has a third breed in her, a pointer.
The reason for this is, no matter what Amity is doing, when she’s outside she’s very curious. If she hears a car, sees another dog, or someone she knows, she freezes and stops and looks in the direction of whatever has caught her interest. She acts like a pointer.
In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist is a pointer as well. The first way John is a pointer is that he points accusingly to the crowd coming to be baptized and rebukes them. I love images and word pictures. John paints a beauty here. “"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” By calling them vipers and then speaking of coming wrath, John compares the crowd to snakes trying to escape from a fire. John pointed to the crowd in rebuke.
Next John points to the crowd to repent. To repent is having remorse, turning around, changing your mind. The
John warns, “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Luk 3:9 NRS) Here we have fire equated with judgment. If they did not show fruit of repentance, the crowd of Jews would be thrown into the fire of judgment. John continues to point to repentance.
Now the crowd responds, “What should we do?” John points to restoration--giving to people in need. Restore their dignity, restore their health, restore their warmth.
Tax collectors responded and they asked, “What should we do?”
The tax collectors would bid to collect taxes for the Roman government and then add a surcharge, which they kept. Since tax collectors worked for Rome, they were viewed as traitors to their own people and were not well liked. Yet even they were moved by John's call. (Bible Works notes)
Next, soldiers responded and asked, “What should we do?” Soldiers of that day were known for using violence to get money from people. They would also bring false charges against people and get paid a part of the court fine. John points to restoration again. Soldiers are to restore dignity to their work by not taking advantage of others because of their positions of power. They also restore dignity to those who do not have to live in fear of having their money forcefully taken or being falsely accused.
John is talking to us today, right here and now. What would he rebuke us for or would he? Are our lives pleasing to God? Are we pushing and screaming and knocking over other shoppers to get the latest gadget that’s the hot item this year? Do we experience road rage when someone cuts us off on the highway? Have we made our desire for material things more important than our desire for relationship with the giver of life? When we do our job, whatever that may be, do we do the best that we can or enough to just get by? How do we deal with our neighbors or strangers? Do we have relatives that we haven’t spoken to in years?
John calls us to restore the dignity to all around us. Downstairs is the shop that provides clothes for those in need. That certainly restores one’s ability to look nice enough for a job interview. Last week, you shared your fellowship hall and time and food to support the Race for Life. What else is God calling us to do? It could be something simple. Do we stop to help stranded motorists? Do we babysit for the single mother? Do we give clothes we no longer wear to Adams Rescue Mission or the Salvation Army or the shop downstairs? Or do we just throw them away? Do we help our neighbor if there is a disaster, such as a fire? Do we do volunteer work for the community? I know many of you already do this.
Lastly, John proclaimed the good news by pointing away from himself and pointing to God, by pointing to the Redeemer. “…one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie … his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In these last 2 weeks of Advent, we are preparing for the Christmas holiday; we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth. This is a time to prepare our hearts. The good news is Jesus is here in our midst today. He is present in Word and Sacrament and in this gathered community. These are the greatest gifts of all. John’s story did not end here, and neither does ours.
Yes, John rebuked the crowd, and challenged them to repent of their ways, and to restore the way they lived their lives in the community. But John knew who and what was coming. He knew that Jesus was coming as the gift of salvation. As we continue our Advent journey toward Christmas, let us remember that God has given us the greatest gift of all in the person of Jesus.
John in pointing to the Redeemer also challenges us to respond to this message. John wants us to respond by rejoicing, and retelling. Let us rejoice over the fact that we know that God loves us so much that he wants us to spend eternity with us. We should be so excited over this gift, that we can’t help but share the Good News with everyone.
In the same way that John pointed the crowd to Jesus, are we pointing others to Jesus? What should WE as the people of God gathered here today do? Are we willing to be the gutsy kind of prophetic voice John was if that’s what God requires?
It is this same Jesus who gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to do all that God asks of us. Together, let us, like John, point the way to Christ.