Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The Gospel Luke 3:7-18
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 ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
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.
And “with many …exhortations,” John the Baptizer, “proclaimed the good news to the people.”
And so, “the crowds asked him, ‘What …should we do?’ “i
“What are supposed to do?”
Wow. That’s a question we’ve all asked at some point. ii
In John’s day, everything was handmade.
No electrical motors. No gasoline engines.
No electricity. No mass manufacturing.
Virtually everything was handmade
So however much stuff there was, and to them it was a lot, there was still, especially by our standards, very, very little.
Never enough food.
Very little of what we would call “Personal Property.”
The very rich, of course, had some stuff, but it was handmade too… by slaves mostly, or what they called “freed men.” Ex-slaves.
Today the Western world’s economy is based on
Making stuff, and selling stuff and having stuff.
“Running back can’t score till he gets a million more
Quarterback can’t pass, owner wants his money back
Too much stuff, too much stuff
You know, you can’t get a grip when you’re slipping in all that stuff.” iii
We’ve got some much stuff, that we have to rent places to stash it. Life is very different from Jesus’ day.
But, even with all that stuff, the question,
“What are supposed to do?,” remains unanswered. Of course.
Our life, as Christian people,
was never supposed to be about our stuff.
We were always supposed to focus on this ageless question: “What are supposed to do?”
Or better yet, “What are supposed to be?”
For a while, back in my hippie days, I lived in Berkeley. Of course. Great used bookstores there.
When I wasn’t working …painting houses, I read … a lot.
I used to drive my 1963 VW van to a little shop, on the North side. I’d grab a cup of coffee, my Canadian cigarettes,
and hang there, reading and taking notes, for hours.
I loved to read Kurt Vonnegut, and Albert Camus,
Or the LA Times, and The Berkely Barb,
or whatever else caught my eye.
I’ll always remember one of Kurt Vonnegut’s clever jokes
To be is to do – – Socrates
To do is to be – – Jean Paul Sartre
Do Be Do Be Do – -Frank Sinatra iv
The main questions, in John the Baptizer’s day, and the main questions in Berkeley and the main questions today, haven’t changed:
“What are supposed to do?”
“What are supposed to be?”
People asked John those questions.
The scriptures don’t share much detail about the individual who’s asking questions.
What mattered then wasn’t “Who” was asking,
but instead, what was that person’s social ranking v
So we get no names.
Instead we’re given the name of the group they belong to.
Was that person a child? Was it an old lady or an old man? A soldier, or a temple leader, a Pharisee or a Roman politician? Or just a no body, like a fisherman or carpenter?
Whoever they were, they asked:
“What are supposed to do?” “Who are supposed to be?”
Were they Sincere or Sarcastic? Mean or Kind? Curious? We can’t really know. But it does kind of matter.
Inflection is everything. Inflection can make all the difference.
Imagine an old married couple.
One says will you do this or that. The other says, “Yes, dear.”
Now, is that “Yes, dear, my love, I fly to do thy bidding?” Or was that “Yes, dear, grumble, grumble, snark, snark?” Hard to be sure! vi
Inflection. It’s such a simple thing. But it matters … a lot. It would be good to know the inflection when the crowd asked: “What are supposed to do?” vii
John didn’t give them a direct answer.
We each have to decide for ourselves, like grown-ups.
But, “I am not the Christ,” John said.
I am not the Messiah, and I’m not Elijah.
I am just a voice … “crying out in the wilderness ….”viii
But the people weren’t satisfied.
They really wanted to know, “Who are you?”
And they really wanted to know, “ ‘What should we do?’ ” And again, John was evasive.
He said to them: “Prepare!” ix
John didn’t say, “I am preparing.”
He said, “you guys need to prepare.”
And what John said 2000 years ago, is still said today. We hear it a lot, from the Left and the Right,
From the LA Times to Fox News:
Get prepared, everybody, ‘cause the stuff is gonna hit the fan.
Fear sells stuff and fear packs churches,
but fear isn’t Jesus’s way.
Advent isn’t about fear. Advent is all about preparation.
As one Old Testament scholar and theologian x suggested: “Advent is anticipation of a new community …, wrought by the power of Jesus.”
Advent is about that new community, preparing for God’s Kingdom.
God doesn’t intend for these days to be anxious times. The Lord doesn’t call us to prepare, with a sense of fear. He calls us to prepare for days of joy, and peace and love.
That’s why, this 3rd Sunday of Advent, is called “Gaudete” Sunday. Gaudete, is a Latin word, which means “Joy.”
Our soft rose-colored candle is a sign of Joy, to light the way, Even when life feels like it’s a cold dark winter.
This Holy Season is not about taking joy in our possessions. It is about taking joy in Him, and
Taking joy in this community, to which we’ve been called.
This Holy Season isn’t about satisfying some false craving, or a coveting the latest cell phone, or gimmick, or toy.
This Season, is about making the path straight and level, so that all of God’s creation can share in this Joyful moment.
How do we, even with our limited means xi,
offer such lasting joy to others?
By acting as Christ’s witnesses,
Just as John the Baptizer was His witness. xii
We are Christ’s church, and in this Holy Season, we are called to be His witnesses,
not by what we say, but by what we do:
We are called to be His witnesses …
By feeding the hungry, embracing the poor and protecting the traveler.
By bind the wounds of the ill and the distressed. By turning the other cheek and forgiving others. By loving one another.
In this Season, in the Holy Moment,
Let us all agree to be His witnesses.
icf, How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer
ii And if we haven’t asked that question then the next questions must be, “Why the heck not?”
iii Songwriters: Mcclinton / Nicholson, “Too Much Stuff” lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, DO Write Music LLC
iv https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/171748-to-be-is-to-do—socrates-to-do-is v Which would inform his (or her) point of view and question.
vi Reasonable minds can differ. Let alone unreasonable minds!
vii And … “…the people were filled with expectation, …. questioning in their hearts” …Whether John the Baptist “might be the Messiah”….
It’s an important question, discussed in all four gospels. “Who are you?” they asked John the Baptizer. In one Gospel he doesn’t say Who he is, but instead says Who he Isn’t! See, John 1:6-8,19-28.
viii “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
ix … he said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
x Walter Brueggemann
xi sometimes questionable health and uncertain free time….
xii In English we would say we must “witness” to others. In Greek, the word is martyría or martyréo μάρτυς (mártus), μαρτυρέω, i.e., “witness.” Those two words are used more than forty-five times in John’s Gospel!