Rejoice in Sharing


The people Israel had been through a great deal and had fallen at the feet of their enemies. Many had been exiled to other nations to live as slaves among foreign peoples, separated from their families, some becoming victims of abuses. The Prophet Zephaniah speaks words that give hope to the people again, reminding them that things are now changing. God has forgiven them of the past transgressions of their generation and the generations before that have led to their defeat and exile, and God will restore them. God will renew them and forgive them. And not just forgive and restore them, but give them victory - victory over their lives and victory over their enemies as well, being able to restore their kingdom. The prophet says that not only will God restore them, but they will be revered among the nations as people look at them and what God has done for them.

It is amazingly good news. You can imagine that, when they heard those words from the prophet, they would begin to get excited, maybe sharing some of that news. That hope and possibility added some joy into what could have been very bleak days for them. And so when we hear Zephaniah from the context of what they were facing, we can only imagine what it was like, what kinds of fears and hopes and joys were all mixed into one. But certainly there had to be joy starting to return to their hearts.

Now, let's move forward to the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist, the one trying to prepare the people for the coming hope and the coming Messiah, is now questioning the people who come to him. It sounds like he has a bit of contempt because the ones who are coming may not have been the faithful, but simply those in the towns and the cities who became more fearful and wanted to be saved from whatever impending terror might be on the way. And so they approach him and he confronts them, calling them 'a brood of vipers.' Certainly in the ancient near east, people would have understood a brood of vipers lying in wait, waiting for the next victim to come along.

John the Baptist strikes at the heart of their sin, reminding them that, "You have come here out of fear." With the baptism of repentance comes the need to change oneself to be more righteous before God. He reminds them that this baptism is only part of the story. "How can you come to me asking for baptism and then continue to do the same things you had been doing?" And he gets very specific with the people. Interestingly, by the things he says not to do, he tells us what was happening in the community at the time. He reminds the people who are coming to him, "If you have two coats, share one with someone who has none." The same thing with food, "If you come into contact with someone who does not have food, share your food with them." These are marks of being righteous in God's eyes. To the tax collectors who made their fortunes by overcharging people so they could keep a portion for themselves, he tells them when they ask what they should do, "Don't take more than what is prescribed." They already received a percentage, but they would overcharge people so that they could live a life of means. So essentially he's telling them, "Be honest in your work." And soldiers would make false accusations of crimes against people for which they could be arrested and thrown in prison, possibly even killed. A way for soldiers to make more money was for them to use their power and authority over others by false means, and he tells them not to do that. "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation. Be satisfied with your wages," he says to the soldiers.

Those things might seem somewhat stunning to us, yet dishonesty and greed is what brought us to some of the circumstances we now face in our nation. And is there going to be true repentance? And with that, does there come a real change? Those are things as people of faith we must demand, that people be honest. We must have people who lead us who are honest. We must have leaders of institutions that literally hold our resources in their hands be honest. If they were, imagine how different and joyous this holiday season might be for the many who are struggling. Imagine a world where people who were baptized as Christians actually begin to act like Christians, not relying on the simplicity of baptism and renewal like John was warning them, but bearing fruit worthy of their repentance, bearing worthy of their calling.

I know that is part of our call: to call people to that task and call ourselves to that task. As we move through this holiday season, we have opportunities to make some change. When we see need in front of us, someone without a coat, someone without hope, someone with no place to stay, we can do something about it. Though some things may seem beyond our reach, there are things that we can do. Sometimes it is the outright help immediately from our own resources. Other times, it's referring to places where help can be found. But those are things that we need to do. Those are things that John the Baptist calls even us to do.

In this season of sharing the Gospel message, we need to 'be' the Gospel message and not just share the words. It is about actions. It's not just about our thoughts of the way things should be, but about the way we actually live our lives. And when we ourselves who claim to follow Christ become beacons among those who live in darkness, change happens. That sharing becomes good news. The promises of God and the changes in our own hearts and the ways that we treat and help others is good news. In sharing both of them, that's when redemption and transformation and new life really and truly begin to take hold in new and very meaningful ways.

So on this particular third Sunday in the season of Advent, remember your baptism and think every day about how John the Baptist might call you if you were at the side of the Jordan River to be baptized by him. Perhaps considering how he might see us could be an additional tool for us in how we see ourselves.

December 13, 2009

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve