Sermon on Luke 3:7-18
A couple weeks ago, I invited everyone to approach the time that we’re in, Advent, as kind of a spiritual discipline. As a time to break away from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and really, just learn patience. Learn waiting.
So here we are, starting our third week of Advent. And how’s that whole waiting thing going?
I think we’re done a good job with preparation. The tree out there is looking quite nice. And preparations for the holiday are going well at my house…much better than the year when we found the Christmas tree lying flat on the ground the one morning. And, better than my brother, who once cut this natural tree from the Alaskan wilderness, only have all the needles fall off all at once.
So yeah, we’re ready. Or at least we think we’re ready. But Christmas is already in full swing. I mean, at this point in the season, I think I’ve had my fill of “All I Want for Christmas is You” screeching on the radio whenever I crank up the car. And don’t get me started on “Little Drummer Boy.”
My wife calls me Scrooge…she’s one of those Christmas music before Thanksgiving monsters. But really, this is a fun time of year. So who am I to complain?
The problem is, John the itinerant baptizer does complain. He refuses to let you or anyone else skip Advent.
Let’s imagine it this way:
John is shouting at the top of his lungs: “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?”
You just wanted to buy one more Christmas present.
“I’m talkin’ to you!” John continues as you walk down the sidewalk toward him.
Who? Me? You look up to see this homeless guy pointing his boney finger at you, with his wild eyes and his crazy hair.
“God doesn’t need your so-called-faith,” he continues. “God can turn these stones into Christians!”
You can tell – this guy is crazy.
Only he isn’t crazy. He is tenacious; but he isn’t crazy.
Time to live your faith.
So, you mutter to yourself about the city and how it won’t take care of the riff raff, all the while fishing in your pocket for a $5 bill to drop into the Salvation Army bucket.
“That paltry donation isn’t going to buy anybody anything! I’m talkn’ to you. Who told you to flee the wrath to come?”
The man is exhausting your already waning Christmas spirit. If he hopes you’ll give him a ten, he’s sorely mistaken.
Only, he doesn’t want your money; he wants your soul. He wants to know: What difference do you really make? What do you bring to this world of complex darkness?
The man’s eyes are God’s eyes, and now you can’t help but wonder the same thing: What difference?
It’s in that darkness that we live out our faith. That complex darkness. While we’d like to think that we’re living in a Christmas world, the reality is that we’re living in an Advent world.
We’re waiting, anticipating the light, we’re trying to build up this wall of hope against this encroaching fear. There is a lingering fear in the air, whether that’s a fear of terrorism, or that anonymous gunman, or something else entirely. Fear that we’re not enough, that we won’t make it or that we’ll lose everything.
And there are those that would like to distill that fear into hatred and turn us against one another and against our neighbors.
That’s why we need John the Baptist in our lives. He’s a real party crasher. He’s not necessarily the one that you want to see coming down the road at you. But he’s the one that you need to see. He holds a mirror up to us. He makes us confront the decay beneath the tinsel.
Bear fruits worthy of repentance, he says. Don’t let the darkness get the better of you. Because the one greater than me, much greater than all of us, is coming. And you want to be ready.
But let’s not think that John’s words are meant to totally tear us down. Because beneath the dark warning is a hint of hope, a sign of healing. It is meant to build us up.
God will not leave any of us alone. God will not let any of us skate on by. God cares about us so much, loves this world so much, that he will not turn away. The fruits of repentance are God’s vision for this world. The child lying in the crib is God’s plan for this world.
The writer of Philippians says it best in our second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
Rejoice for the Lord is near.
The Lord is always near. Always present. Always beside us. Even when we’re frightened of the darkness. Even when we don’t want to face the truth. Even when our own fruits of repentance don’t quite bear out.