2nd Sunday in Advent
December 6, 2015
Luke 3:1-14 (15-20)
“What Should We Do?”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson previously read from Luke 3.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Sunday, October 30, 1938 would have been a normal day in the history had it not been for what happened that night. What started as a normal Sunday evening at home for most people was suddenly shattered beginning around 8:15 PM, that is, if they had their radios turned on. According to the New York Times article that appeared the next day, A wave of mass hysteria seized thousands of radio listeners between 8:15 and 9:30 PM when a broadcast of H. G. Wells’ fantasy, “The War of the Worlds,” led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading death and destruction in New Jersey and New York. Thousands of people called the police, newspapers and radio stations in both the United States and Canada seeking advice on protective measures against the raiding Martians.
We, in the techno-savvy 21st century look back on those events and the hysteria that followed and we kind of “pooh pooh” and chuckle, but what would YOU do if faced with similar circumstances? What would you do if you were told that there were verifiable reports that a comet was headed for earth and would strike with devastating effects? What would you do if you knew for certain that there was an impending event that would change things forever?
Maybe you can see already where I am going with this. In today’s Gospel lesson we hear of the efforts of John, son of Zechariah, whom you and I know better as John the Baptist. Luke records the climate into which John had his ministry; it is a politically charged time featuring the ruthless family of Herod and the reign of Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas as High Priest. Into this violent and corrupt situation, John came fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah; John was the voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord, because an event was coming that would change everything; all flesh, all mankind, all humanity, was going to see God’s salvation.
John the Baptist had been preaching of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and the people were beginning to respond. They were like the hearers of the War of the Worlds broadcast back in 1938. John’s message was so accurate and so inspired and so “real;” it hit them hard. As they heard and were convicted and saw John, there was one question that got asked over and over…”what should we do?” What should we do, not in the face of an impending alien attack, but in the face of the impending salvation that God is about to bring?
The crowd asked John the question, “What should we do?” (v. 10). The crowd was comprised of people who thought of themselves as good and faithful Jews – children of Abraham whose ancestry, they thought, already made them a “shoe-in” for God’s salvation. John revealed they were not as safe as they thought. John’s position started a wave of hysteria…if ancestry and heritage wasn’t going to be enough, then what was the answer?
The tax collectors asked John the same thing – “what should we do?” If the children of Abraham weren’t safe, then what about the tax collectors? Sure, many were Jews themselves, but they figured they were outside of God’s salvation because of their vocation. Tax collectors were thieves and cheats and traitors; sinners through and through. Obviously they wondered what they should do. The soldiers also had the same concerns. Soldiers – both Jews and Romans – practiced extortion of people and used not a scale but the sword to achieve their goals. They too were “sinners” and thought to be outside of God’s salvation. They too wanted to know what they should do to receive what God had to offer.
The temptation may be, once again, for us in the 21st century to “pooh pooh” the subject and to approach the topic in the same way as the crowds that day because we know better. But do we? Maybe we too think that because of our heritage or our ancestry or our piety or our long time church membership that we too will automatically receive God’s salvation.
What should WE do? First of all, the call of John the Baptist is a call to repentance…”Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (v. 8). True repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry” for our sins. The Greek word for repentance (metanoew) really means a turning: a turn or change of mind, a change of heart, a change of purpose, a change of life. John also tells us that what we should do is not look to him, but look towards the One who comes after him bringing a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. This is, of course, the One who comes to bring God’s salvation. Jesus Christ may have been born in humble circumstances – an event that we celebrate in just a few weeks – but He comes to bring what was promised: the salvation of all humanity (flesh); the gift of eternal life that God desires we have.
Just as John the Baptist promised, Jesus brings the promised salvation by His birth, life, death, and resurrection. That is how true forgiveness and salvation comes and in no other way! Relying on ancestry or heritage or traditions or someone else’s faith is not helpful for God’s salvation. Salvation ONLY COMES by faith – YOUR faith – in the One who brings it – the ultimate Christmas gift – the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ. Therefore, it’s not a question of what WE do, but what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. That salvation gift turns or changes us and how we treat others. The forgiven life is a changed, transformed life.
So, what does the transformed life look like? It involves treating people with generosity, kindness, mercy, and love. It’s showing grace as we’ve been shown grace. We have been called to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. We are called to have a faith expressed in action! Answering the question of what we should do in the face of the impending coming of our Lord means responding with a certain kind of life…a life of good all-around stewardship that reflects the salvation-giving faith we have in Jesus.
This time of year you’re probably doing all kinds of preparing: for Christmas, for company, for travel, and so on and so forth, but don’t forget the message of John the Baptist who calls you to daily prepare for this life and the life of the world to come by your faith in Christ, the One who brings salvation for all humanity which makes us truly prepared both now and forever.