7John 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? 8Bear 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. 9Even 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." 10And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" 11In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 13He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." 14Soldiers 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."
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John 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. 17His 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." 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Two weeks ago on the First Sunday of Advent, the church started a new year of grace. Today we hear about John the Baptist from Luke 3:7-18 as he instructs people (a brood of vipers who need to repent) how to get ready for the arrival of God in their midst in the person of his cousin Jesus.
Do you remember John and Jesus were very close in age? J the B's official church birthday is June 25, right after the summer solstice; although Jesus's birth likely was during the season of spring, we celebrate his birthday right after the winter solstice, on December 25. Birthdays of increasing and decreasing light symbolize nicely John's observation, "Jesus must increase, I must decrease." Actions of Jesus' followers – ordinary, everyday lives of those baptized with water and with fire – become a big aspect of Jesus' presence increasing and growing on earth.
People in general imagine doing things the world will consider amazing, nut Jesus' cousin tells us to get ready for The Coming One by living life simply where we already are and sharing essentials like clothing and food. He doesn't even advise tax collectors and soldiers who are in the employ of the occupying Roman government to quit their jobs that potentially oppress and even could bankrupt people. We basically need to bloom where we're planted, and do everything the best we can with fairness and righteousness.
Two Sundays ago in my intro to Luke's gospel, I mentioned he emphasizes:
• neighborology – the word about the neighbor! The actions towards the neighbor! During Year C the lectionary includes quite a few readings from jeremiah and Deuteronomy that also emphasize the neighbor, the other, living together faithfully in covenantal community.
Would God among us not be an alleluia moment, a time to sing praises?! In this riverside narrative, John the Baptist has people preparing for God's arrival in their midst by starting to live as he knew Jesus would teach us to be and to act; when that happens, everyone will shout alleluias!
• Starting with John the Baptist down by the riverside counseling people to share what they have with others in order to prepare for the arrival of God in our midst, we find a lot of "social gospel" throughout Luke. However, this isn't let's see how many good works we humans can accomplish on our own; it's always about the indwelling and outgoing power of the Holy Spirit.
Today's gospel reading anticipates the same Luke's Acts of the Apostles where everyone has everything in common, where members of the nascent church literally provide for the common good. Acts includes some pretty amazing accounts of missions to distant places, too, but more than anything, it's about serving the people, right here in this very place, giving of ourselves and our excess. This is the outcome of the presence in our lives of the One who baptizes with cleansing water and purifying fire. Our everyday lives become part of the magic of the ordinary for our neighbors.
Just as Matthew never lets up on justice and righteousness, Luke never lets up on living for the other, for the neighbor, correcting the imbalance of some having more than they need, others trying to get by with less. Early on in Luke's
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.