Advent 2009, Week Three

 

Preparing for the coming of the Lord does not mean turning our backs on the world, opting out, becoming monks. We all have to work, to buy, to save, and to consume. We must start where we are, whether we are bankers or bailiffs, landlords or builders, journalists or bus-drivers. It’s the choices that we make in these activities that matter – both by making a contribution to justice and to the environment and by sending a message that things must be different and that it can start with us.

 

Advent 2009 – A World In Waiting

Week Three – A New Morality

Day Six – A New Set of Practices

 

John said to the crowds that came out to be

baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who

warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear

fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to

yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our

ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these

stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now

the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree

therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down

and thrown into the fi re.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should

we do? ” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has

two coats must share with anyone who has none;

and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even

tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked

him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to

them, “Collect no more than the amount

prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And

we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not

extort money from anyone by threats or false

accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all

were questioning in their hearts concerning John,

whether he might be the Messiah, John answered

all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water;

but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I

am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his

threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his

granary; but the chaff he will burn with

unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed

the good news to the people.’Luke 3: 7-18

 

John ‘the Baptist’ was a threat. Or so it seemed to the officials and leaders of the people who had cast their lot with the Romans and who were benefiting from the oppression of the people. And they were right to be alarmed. For the country was divided.

 

The elite may have found a way of prospering under the Pax Romana but for ‘the poor’, those who were faithful to God and who had not sold out, these were hard times. Not surprising then that those days of injustice and unrest saw the emergence of a number of renewal movements. Some like the Essenes sought personal purification by withdrawing and becoming a sect. Others, like the Zealots, sought to purify the nation by confronting the oppressor in armed rebellion. No wonder the leaders were anxious to know what John was up to, what kind of movement he was starting out there in the wilderness, what label they should pin on him. John saw through their motives and so he greeted them with the cry: ‘You brood of vipers.’

 

Yet there were people who looked to John as the founder of a movement. But that was not how John saw himself. He had no messianic pretensions. His mission was simply to urge people to prepare for what

was to come. He was first of all a preacher, and only then a baptizer. But how to prepare? What was to be done? That was the question. And, surprisingly, it was a question put to him, sincerely, by people who, to all appearances, would have had something to fear from the ending of the old order – the well-to-do, the tax collectors, the military – all of whom enjoyed a wide degree of power, with limited accountability, over others.

John’s reply was not complicated. No excuse for putting off change whilst preparing complex action plans or engaging in long-drawn out consultations, hoping that the moment for action might pass. Now was the time to repent. Not to feel sorry about the past or to beat one’s breast but to change – now.

 

It was the kind of change that was to be put into practice immediately in one’s own situation. There was no point in remaining in the wilderness. It was no use simply waiting for the coming of the Lord. Those who had come out to see what was going on were to go back to their daily lives and occupations but to behave in a new way: ‘Bear fruits worthy of repentance’.

 

Roman soldiers were not to bully people, tax-collectors were not to over-charge, those with two shirts or a bit of extra food were to share it with those who had none. Obvious. Simple. But it would have come as a surprise to see soldiers, tax-collectors and the well-to do behaving in this way. That would send a message alright that an ever greater change was on the way.

 

Preparing for the coming of the Lord does not mean turning our backs on the world, opting out, becoming monks. We all have to work, to buy, to save, and to consume. We must start where we are, whether we are bankers or bailiffs, landlords or builders, journalists or bus-drivers. It’s the choices that we make in these activities that matter – both by making a contribution to justice and to the environment and by sending a message that things must be different and that it can start with us.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Pastor's Page. Bookmark the permalink.