Today's Lectionary Text
Luke 3: 1-18
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
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.
Ever since I became a United Methodist, I loved learning about the seasons of the Church, and I especially loved the season of Advent. Later, when I was in seminary, I began to study the scriptures much more closely. I pondered why this text was included in the Advent scriptures when it was not about Jesus becoming Incarnate, but was about the advent of his ministry as an adult. I did get the fact that Luke quotes Isaiah in Luke 3:4-6 (in fact I cannot read the Isaiah quote without hearing the song from Godspell “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”), which invite us to prepare our lives for Jesus to enter in, no matter if at his time of birth or the beginning of his ministry or at his emptying of his life for us.
Yet, in Luke 3:7, when John begins to lay into the people as "you brood of vipers" and "you’ll be chopped down and thrown in the fire if you do not bear fruit," I began to be troubled by this text as an advent message. However, when I preached upon this passage in my second or third year of ministry, I realized John was saying to repent, not just in words, but in the way you live your lives - change your heart and your lives! The people, tax collectors and soldiers ask, "how?" John’s answer reminded me of the signature story of Robert Fulghum, from, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
Fulghum’s list of things he learned in Kindergarten includes: Share everything. Don’t cheat. Play fair.
John essentially answers the crowd in the same way: Share. Don’t steal from others. Play fair. John sounds angry because these are the things God has commanded us to do from the beginning, yet as we prepare for Jesus to come, we still do not live the way God wants.
My friends, it’s not complicated. We prepare for Jesus our Lord to enter into our lives by repenting (changing) our lives such that we: Share everything. Don’t steal from others. Play fair. We so need to hear this in our troubled world today.
-Rev. Galen Wray
Prayer for Reflection
Creator God, you gave us life in the beginning and gave us simple commandments to live by. Help us prepare ourselves for Jesus to enter in once again and to tell us: Share. Don’t steal. Play fair. Amen.
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