A sermon based on Luke 3:7-18
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
Dramatic Monolog playing John the Baptist (consider
wearing worn-out clothes, sandals, etc and ruffing up your hair) in loud
Repent for the end is near. Very near! In fact it's coming soon--the end
of the world as we know it!
Some say that you can escape God's judgment by hoarding
supplies, by building bunkers or by buying a survival guide.
I am here to tell you that none of that stuff is going
to save you. The answer is in the spiritual, not the material realm!
You need a spiritual survival guide; you need to get
right with the big guy upstairs; you need to repent of your sin, and you
need to stop sinning. But you can't just say it, you got to show your
sincerity with fruits of repentance; quit cheating, quit hurting other
people with your actions or words, and start giving. Yes, you heard me:
give! Share what you have as God has shared with you!
As every year, this truly barbaric character of John the
Baptist is popping up in our Advent season. What the heck is he doing
here amid the Advent cheer and the Christmas festivities. After all this
is the season of love! Not a time for judgment, or is it?
He sounds like one of those crazy preachers on the
corner of the street, who yells at people, trying to get a doomsday
message across to people. Does this ever work? Does anybody ever stop to
listen to these preachers? Well, John the Baptist did get a whole
lot of people out into the desert just to hear him and many of them
decided to be baptized by him as a sign of repentance. Perhaps there is
something about John that we miss. Perhaps we need to look a bit deeper
into this text to see where his heart is. Perhaps, John's message,
though it doesn't sound loving, may still be about "loving people" into
God's kingdom. Kind of like a tough love approach some parents take in
order to reform their children and restore them to the family's trust
Certainly, John's idea of Christmas is not the same as
ours. In fact he yells at his audience, and since his words have been
eternalized in the biblical canon, he's yelling at us too: "You brood of
vipers!" I believe that these words were an insult on the level of
our modern expression that contains the "b word." ( You bs, son's of b's!).
This is rough language!
But, to give him credit, John's words had the intended
effect. People were rattled, They started to question their own
motivation. Perhaps they were even wondering out their state of
salvation. Maybe they were even a little scared. They asked: "What then
should we do?" John's answer is simple and yet so hard: "Whoever has two
coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do
Tax collectors came forth.
"Teacher," they ask, "What should we do?" He tells them, "Collect no
more than the amount prescribed for you." John's message had a universal
appeal, going beyond the Jewish community. Even Roman soldiers
approached him: "And we, what should we do?" John replies, "Do not
extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be
satisfied with your wages."
Turns out that John wasn't like the street preacher
whose every word is doom and gloom. He has some good news too. He has
answers for the people. In spite of the strong language John is
hurling at the people, he genuinely cares about them; he wants them to
be reconciled to God and start acting like true children of God. And so
John uses this strong language to get their attention.
But I keep coming back to the thing that I find
most amazing about John's message when he says that the main fruit of
repentance is this: share with the poor!
If you truly repent you will share with those who don't
have as much as you!
That's markedly different from what's going on in our
Western understanding of the Christmas spirit, isn't it?
We "shop til we drop," but not to help the poor, but to
exchange gifts with friends and family members. In the end, we are
blessed, not just by material goods, but by the love that is being
exchanged. And there's nothing wrong with Christmas giving done in love,
except perhaps the fact that our Christmas becomes excessively
materialistic and commercialized at times. But even at it's best, our
Christmas spirit misses the true point of God's love. It's not supposed
to be about blessing and loving our friends and family members alone.
It's about making this world a better, more just world. And that's what
John the Baptist reminds us of in his own dramatic way.
For giving to the poor is an especially evident fruit of
repentance because it shows that you understand what God has given you.
It shows that we truly understand what it means when God gives his one
and only son to be born into our world of sin. It shows that we truly
appreciate what it means that the Son of God gave his own life on the
cross, so that the penalty for our sin would be paid in exchange for our
Giving is God's way, and it is the way that our fruit of repentance can
also be manifested. Those of us who have ears to hear, let us hear and
go change the world by acts of giving in the spirit of God's love .