John the Baptist’s harsh words remind us of God’s judgment while opening the door for a teaching moment. John gives three pieces of advice when asked, “What then should we do?” First, give your second coat to someone who needs one and leftover food to someone who is hungry; second, collect no more tax than you should; and third, do not extort money and be grateful for what you are paid for your work. Justice is a big issue for the Gospel writer, for John, and for God. These relatively small acts of propriety and generosity can make significant changes in the lives of others.
A number of years ago, I received a cancer diagnosis. As a result I had to go through six months of chemotherapy, which left me sick, exhausted, and bald. One morning during this time I was sitting in a nearby coffee shop waiting for a friend. I was wearing my usual baseball cap; surely it was obvious to everyone that I was in the midst of chemotherapy. A young man approached me while I sat there and asked whether I was in treatment for cancer. I said yes. He then told me his mom was in treatment for lung cancer. He said he hoped things would go well for me—a short conversation, but it meant so much to me for him to wish me well.
Since that experience, I have established a discipline for myself. Whenever I see a person obviously in chemotherapy, I always approach that person and ask whether he or she is in treatment. After hearing the story, I wish the person well. That young man’s simple act years ago made a big difference in my life and, I hope, in the lives of others dealing with cancer. May it be so.
God of love and generosity, we are grateful for your presence and guidance in our lives. Help us to live up to your expectations of us. Amen.
As I reviewed the scripture passages for this week, a hymn titled “Rejoice, Give Thanks and Sing” kept going through my mind. The writers of this week’s texts advise us to do all these things. At this time of year, these responses often seem to come naturally for many of us. The prophet Zephaniah exhorts his audience to sing aloud and rejoice. The prophet Isaiah calls on the people of Judah to “give thanks to the Lord.” In the letter to the Philippians, Paul advises his audience to “rejoice in the Lord always.” The tone of the Luke passage for this week is more somber; through the words of John the Baptist, Luke challenges his audience to maintain right relationships with God and humanity. Taken together, these passages provide a number of life lessons.
• Read Isaiah 12:2-6. Think about the times of uncertainty in your life. What did you fear? Who or what gave you comfort during these times?
• Read Zephaniah 3:14-20. When have you found joy in the midst of trouble? Think back on that time in your life, and give thanks for God’s presence.
• Read Luke 3:7-18. Where in your life are you being nudged to do the right thing? How will you respond?
• Read Philippians 4:4-7. At what times is God most present in your life? When do you find yourself searching for God?
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