Dec 12, 2021
Third Sunday in Advent
Text: Luke 3:7-18
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
I enjoyed leading an Advent Bible Study at Concordia Retirement Community this past week. Or as we sometimes jokingly call it, Faith Lutheran Church West, since so many FLC members reside there. Our discussion at the Bible Study was on the three Gospel lessons assigned for the third Sunday in Advent in the three-year lectionary cycle. One from John, one from Matthew, and one from Luke, which we read today.
In each one, we get a different look at John the Baptist. In John, the emphasis is on how John points to Jesus. Unlike the other Gospels, there is no mention of John having an important ministry of his own. (Stained-glass window) He is a witness who testifies to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In Matthew, John refers to Jesus as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, but because Jesus seems not to be meeting John’s expectations of stirring the people up to action, he questions if Jesus is the Messiah.
And in today’s text, from Luke, John’s role as a Prophet and Preacher is the most obvious. He gets his listeners’ attention with harsh words and threatening descriptions. But also gives them some easy-to-understand direction. The reading begins by noting that crowds came out to be baptized by Jesus in the wilderness. We might ask ourselves, “Why that’s the case?”
We can guess that they wanted to check him out to see if this one (remember, there were many self-acclaimed messiahs) is the real deal, the Messiah. Or it could be that they had recognized their shortcomings, including how they had fallen short when it came to loving God and neighbor and wanted to reset their spiritual lives. Or their motivation might have been fear of the consequences of their failures, and they wanted a way out. Maybe life was overwhelming, and they were looking for an anchor in the storm.
Whatever the reasons, the crowds ventured into the wilderness to see, hear, and experience this Prophet. Whose mission, it seems, was to warn them of the consequences of their current path and call them back to the ways of God, so that they’ll be ready to welcome the true Messiah.
John did not let them off the hook; even having Abraham as an ancestor is not enough to save them. They must repent, bear fruit worthy of repentance and believe. While this sounds standard to us, it is, in fact, radical. John was redefining what it meant to be a child of Abraham (and of God). It includes all who repent, all who bear fruit, and all who believe, regardless of ancestry.
The crowds were so taken by this radical pronouncement that they responded.
Asking what, exactly, they should do; first the group as a whole, then the tax collectors specifically, and finally the soldiers. John gave specific, doable responses.
To the crowd in general, if you have more than you need, whether, in terms of food or clothes, you must share. To the tax collectors, who regularly added extra for themselves to the regional and Roman taxes, John says stop stealing from your neighbors. To the soldiers, stop using your power to take advantage of others. Repentance, then, involved how they love their neighbors.
At the Bible study this week, it was pointed out that although John is so bombastic, fiery, and even threatening, he also is humble, always deferring to Jesus as greater than him, and practical in his explanation of what to do.
As commentator Scott Hoezee points out, “Well, what did you expect John would say? Should he tell people to become ascetics, moving out into the middle of nowhere so as to meditate and chant mantras and offer prayers day and night for the rest of their lives? Should he tell folks – especially the soldiers who were armed in the first place – to go launch a revolution and found a political movement? (The Messiah Party or some such thing?) Should he tell ordinary folks – carpenters, bakers, tax collectors – to go and establish some huge social service agency to reach out to lepers and other marginalized people in the culture of the day?” (1)
Instead, John sent people back to their regular lives to live better: more generously, more honestly, with more integrity and contentment. This is good advice for us as we prepare to welcome Jesus:
1. repent – spend some time focusing on spiritual self-evaluation and renewal.
2. believe – strengthen our connectedness with God.
3. bear fruit – be generous, honest, and act with integrity and contentment.
There are examples of this all around us, I believe. For example, this week on NPR’s Morning Edition, I heard a story of people facing their own challenges reaching out to help others experiencing a difficulty. It is taking place at, appropriately, Camp Hope in British Columbia.
This summer, that area faced two natural disasters; the first was a “Heat Dome” that created a never-before-experienced temperature of 121 degrees. The excessive heat led to a fire that destroyed acres, including the village of Litton, which was inhabited primarily by first nation people who had lived there for centuries. Many had no place to go, so nearby Camp Hope, owned by the Seventh Day Adventists, canceled its summer reservations and welcomed the newly homeless Littonites to live in the cabins there.
Then, the second natural disaster hit; excessive rain created landslides which blocked the roads and trapped 271 travelers. So it is that the people of Litton went down to the area where 100 cars were unable to move, knocked on vehicle windows, and invited them to the Camp. They put beds in the auditorium and provided food, the latter being flown in by helicopter and prepared by teams of the displaced Litton residents.
Now, some of those who were offered hospitality during the landslide are reaching out to assist the people of Litton, who have no set departure date from Camp Hope. It’s a circle of caring or to use the language of John the Baptist, of bearing fruit worthy of repentance.
Sometimes we lose track of the reality that people’s lives can be significantly impacted by obvious, but heart-felt, acts of loving a neighbor. In that there is joy. Be generous. Be honest. Act with integrity and be content. Then you will be ready for Jesus, who, ironically, has already been made known through you. AMEN
(1) “Sermon Commentary for December 16, 2018: Luke 3:7-18” by Scott Hoezee, www.cepreaching.org