Luke 3: 7-18   What Then Shall We Do?
Sermon by Pastor Mark Siler, 12/16/18

I think it’s safe to say that John the Baptist does not really get the Christmas spirit, or at least the Christmas spirit as we have come to think about it.  It’s the 3rd week of Advent, the week before we celebrate God coming all the way in Jesus and instead of wishing us a Merry Christmas, instead of inviting us over for a cup of Egg Nog, John the Baptist calls us “A brood of vipers”.  He insists that our religious heritage is not what matters, what matters is simply whether or not we are bearing fruit, fruit worthy of repentance, fruit that prepares a way for Christ. So as we consider this rather harsh and seemingly un-Christmas like text, my questions is this: What is this baptism of repentance that John demands of us and what does it have to do with Christmas?

Thoughts from those gathered:

It’s about preparing for what’s coming and preparing by treating each other right.

I thought John the Baptist just calls the religious leaders “A Brood Of Vipers”. Turns out, according to Luke, he is talking to everybody.

He is talking about a baptism that changes the heart.

John was a wild man.  He lived out in the wilderness. He ate locusts and honey. He wore camel skins tied down with a leather belt.  By all standards, both now and then, John would be labeled strange and even scary. I’m grateful that I am a part of church that would genuinely welcome John the Baptist and invite him to sit down for a meal, encourage him to participate in worship.  But this scripture is not about welcoming John the Baptist, it is about letting him baptize us.

Are we willing to do that?  Are we willing to renounce was is known, what is acceptable, what is comfortable and be baptized by the wild edginess of John the Baptist?  Apparently, this is necessary if we are to prepare the way for the Lord, to prepare the way for Jesus to be fully born into our lives, into our world.  According to John, getting ready for Christmas means changing directions. It means letting go of our allegiances to control and respectability. It means allowing ourselves to be baptized by outsiders so that we too become outsiders, so that our very lives disrupt what is considered normal and make room for the new normal called the kingdom of God.   It’s one thing to welcome strangers, it is another thing to let them baptize us, to immerse our lives in their reality, to see the world through their eyes and wake up to all that is unacceptable for this God who becomes human, who embraces everyone as beloved child.

For John the Baptist, a baptism of repentance seems to boil down to how we answer the question: What then shall we do?  Do our actions with each other demonstrate a faith in this God who is born among us? In the end, John is really quite the pragmatist. No grand feats of faith are required. He tells the crowd, “Look in your closet. Do you really need two coats? You have a neighbor who does not have one. And check your pantry while you are it. You probably have some extra food for somebody who needs it”. He tells the tax collectors, “Look at what you are taking. Is it more than your share, more than you need? If so, stop. Stop making life harder for people.” He says to the soldiers, “Where are you putting your attention?  Why are you focused on what you don’t have instead of what you do have? Be satisfied and don’t exploit others.”

What if, instead of asking each other “Are you ready for Christmas?” we start asking each other, “What then, are you going to do?”  In light of Christ being born into the world, how will you act differently towards your neighbors, those you know and especially those you don’t know, those God sends to baptize us. Before we try and take in the amazing truth of the manger, can we let the John the Baptists around us, the outsiders, lead us down into a cold stream of grace, a rushing river of hope and fearlessness that takes our breath away and ushers us into a new way of being, a new way of sharing, a new way of living on the outside of what we have come to accept and on the inside of the heaven on earth that Christ’s birth reveals. What then, shall we do?