Luke 3:7-18 (Common English Bible)
7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”
10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”
14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”
He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”
Responses to John
15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” 18 With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people.
Thoughts on the passage:
Earlier this week I saw an article on CNN.com entitled “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Satanists.” Being interested in all things associated with religions and also a compulsive clicker on links. I started reading. True to its promise, the article did a lot to inform me about Satanists. One of the things the article did was clearly establish that Satanists are not crazy people making strange sacrifices that we probably all think they are. Many of them do not actually believe in Satan as a real being. Instead they believe in the ideas they find in Satan, a freedom and individualism that they find lacking in other places. One person interviewed talked about how they identified not as an “a-theist,” but instead as an “I-theist.” While the article did a lot to soften the image of a Satanist, that one phrase stuck with me. Even without a belief in the Devil as a real entity, Satanism is dangerous when it promotes the idea of elevating the self above all else.
Christianity is not about the individual, it is about the good of the community, the good of everyone, the good of all creation. The Christmas story is all about God’s self-sacrificing love, to be born and walk among us to show us a better way to live. The values of the individual; privilege, wealth, and status are shown to be worthless in the Kingdom of God where the first are last and the last are first. Christ is born: for shepherds living on the margins and for wise men and kings, for Jews and gentiles, for men and women. Christianity is based in the belief that Christ was born to save us all.
When we talk about preparing our lives for the coming birth of Christ we need to start by remembering the big change that occurs in your life when you have a child. Suddenly that baby, and not you, is the clear center of the universe. For better or for worse, I believe everyone has a tendency to my self-centered. It is a natural part of the human condition where we divide the world between our self and everything else outside ourselves. It takes a conscious effort to overcome this. When you have a child, you are prompted to make that shift.
Making that shift was hard for me. It changed the ways I viewed a lot of things. One of the biggest struggles for me has been around balancing my work and my family. I have made two solemn oaths to God, one was to serve the church, and the other was to care for my wife, and by extension my family. Balancing those often times competing interests is not easy. Making the changes in my life to make sure that my family gets the care and attention they deserve is hard. It requires conscience effort on my part. I need to let go of things I might want to do at work. I need to learn to say “no” to things I want to embrace. I have to think beyond myself.
Getting ready for the birth of Christ means letting go of things. When John the Baptist talks about preparing for the coming of Christ he uses some strong language. He talks about things like axes and fires, violent language that seems to threaten a harsh response. He uses this language because sometimes we need to be shaken from our old habits and the natural tendencies we have. When he talks about separating the wheat from the chaff, I don’t see it as a metaphor for sinners and saints, but instead something we all must do internally if we are going to follow God.
As we prepare our lives for Christ, like the thresher, we must toss things in the air and the let the wheat and the chaff, the good and the bad, be sorted in our lives. Those things that call us to something greater can be set aside, and those things that cause us to focus inward and only on ourselves need to be set aside and burned. What does he tell people to do? Stop cheating, stop stealing, stop hoarding, and be content.
Are our lives ready for Christ’s coming? Are we ready to separate out the wheat and the chaff in our lives and prepare ourselves to follow God? When Marianne and I were getting ready to have Bryce, I had to stop thinking about my time as just being my own and thinking about how I shared it with my family. When we prepare for Christmas we need to stop thinking about just ourselves and what we are getting, but instead about the self-sacrificing love embodied in Christ. We need to remember that God comes to earth as a humble child, forgoing the riches and power of a king to be a real leader to us and in the end Christ dies that we might have eternal life.
Questions to Ponder:
Who is someone who you feel is humble and self-sacrificing?
What is something that they do that you wish you could do as well?
Is there something in your life you want to change as you prepare for the birth of Christ and the start of a new year?
Prayer: God, every year we talk about getting ready for your birth. Every year we try and prepare our homes, hearts, minds and lives for you. Be with us in this season of Advent as we prepare again for your birth. Help us to prepare ourselves that we can be ready to be faithful followers of you. AMEN