ADVENT III - C- 15 LUKE 3. 7-18
Today’s gospel reading from St. Luke picks up where we left off last week. John Baptist has arrived on the scene of divine history by preaching a baptism of repentance as a means of preparing for the coming of the Kingdom of God. His mission is to herald the Messiah and to get God’s people ready to meet him with joy. According to Luke, John moved about in the region of the Jordan and people came to see him and hear him from all Judea.
Some of them listened intently to what he had to say, repented of their sins, and were baptized by him in the Jordan in preparation for the coming of Messiah. Others went out to see what all of the fuss was about, including some Pharisees and Sadducees, according to Matthew. These religious leaders were skeptical of John and his message. “Where did he come from and who does he think he is?”
The Church describes this as a joyful season of expectation, but that stands in marked contrast to John’s greeting of those who came out to hear him in today’s passage: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Of course those who came out to see and hear him were Jews. John quickly dispels their presumption concerning their lineage, that it would in some way automatically pave the way for them to meet the Lord. “Even now the ax is laying at the root of the trees;” John tells the crowd, and “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” For John Judgment is imminent.
The main theme of today’s passage is “bear fruits that befit repentance.” That message was meant for all who came out to see John, and it is meant for all of us who hear his words today.
John demands right living based on a sincere search for God’s will as an affirmation of one’s repentance. It is one thing to say that we are to search for God’s will, but how do we go about fleshing that out? What does it look like? The people asked John basically the same question “What should we do?”
A cartoon shows a skeptic shouting up to the heavens, “God, if you are up there, tell us what we should do!” Back comes a voice: “Feed the hungry, house the homeless, establish justice.” The skeptic looks alarmed. “Just testing,” he says. “Me too,” replies the voice.
As I am certain there were those down by the Jordan who were just testing John. But John replied with a simple rule of thumb for all who would listen. If you have two coats, give one away to someone who has none. If you have more food than you can eat or need, give it away to those who are hungry. And then, there were the special cases the tax collectors and the soldiers who asked the same question: “what shall we do?”
The same rule applies. Stop cheating John told the tax collectors. Stop lining your own pockets. Don’t charge any more than is required. And to the soldiers John said stop abusing the people with your authority, stop the extortion and the pillaging, be content with your wages and don’t try and add to them by acts of violence.
His rule was simple enough that no one could miss the point. They were simple clear commands that if obeyed would demonstrate that people meant business. None of these things happen by chance; they only occur when people have genuinely repented of the small-scale injustices that quickly turn a society sour.
John seems to have all the answers and it is natural, then, that some who heard him believed not only what he had to say, but believed that he was Messiah; a claim John quickly squelches. “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” And that’s not all, John said, he is coming to judge.
With society’s emphasis on spending and gift giving, black Fridays that begin on Thursday, the hustle and bustle of getting ready for a commercial celebration of Christmas, it is easy for us as Christians to get caught up in all of that and forget what the season of Advent is really all about in the first place.
It is certainly easy for us to forget that the theme of this short season is one of preparation for the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who, as John so aptly reminds us, who will come with winnowing fork in hand to separate the wheat from the chaff.
In addition to all of the hustle and bustle it seems that society, especially at this time of the year, gets more than usually disturbed by the evil around and within us, the violence people bring against one another; neighbor against neighbor, nation against nation.
Recent events only serve to heighten our anxieties. This could be in itself a positive sign in that it causes us to recognize that as a people, we are terribly disordered, and that we need to re-orient our lives in preparation for Christ’ coming.
For all of us are in need of repentance; of straightening out the crookedness in our lives in order to make the pathway straight for the coming of Christ. And so the question posed by those who heard John’s message is a natural one “What shall we do?” What shall we do in order to be able to rejoice at His appearing?
We don’t have to look very far for the answer. John’ exhortation to all those who came out to see and hear him down at the Jordan applies to all of us today who wish to see Jesus. “Bear fruits that befit repentance.”
To bear fruits that befit repentance demonstrates to a world filled with anxiety, fear, and darkness, that we mean business when it comes to preparing for Christ’ return, and even more so that, we rejoice that the Lord is near. AMEN+