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Giving Love
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 voice:

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!

End monologue

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 and love.

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 likewise."

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 very lives.

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 . Amen.