During Advent, we often find ourselves thinking warm and comforting thoughts about Christmas and babies and manger scenes and carols. Some of us think warm thoughts about families gathering to celebrate the season. However, today’s scripture confronts us with prophetic words that are neither warm nor comforting. John the Baptist sounds angry when he calls the people gathered before him a “brood of vipers.” That condemnation doesn’t help us get into the Christmas spirit!
However, we need to keep reading. After John speaks about trees being cut down and thrown into the fire and burning chaff with fire, the Gospel writer concludes this section with these words: “With many other exhortations, [John] proclaimed good news to the people.” So John’s message isn’t all negative.
We may wonder why the people stay and listen to John given his strong judgmentalism. When does judgment become good news? Perhaps the people perceive a word of truth in what they hear. His hearers, rather than walking away or arguing with John, respond by posing a simple question: “What then should we do?” And John’s response is equally simple: Do the right thing. Be generous. Don’t steal from others. Do not take advantage of people. And so it comes to us: Volunteer in our communities. Be honest in our dealings with friends and colleagues. Go above and beyond to offer help.
And perhaps beyond the good life lessons, John turns their attention to the coming One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire—a foretaste of Pentecost.
Loving God, we need your help to do the right thing. Be with us as we try to do our best. 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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