God of all creation, again this year we anticipate your Holy Presence among us in the Bethlehem manger. We also find you in our neighbor next door, the homeless family in the park, the clerk at the convenience store, frontline medical and municipal workers, scientists studying COVID, and conflicts across the world, may we bring to all of these the joy of the Bethlehem baby. We pray in the name of the Bringer of hope and Author of peace, amen!
© Leah Chang, 2006, 2021
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
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 John, "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 what should we do?" John 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."
For this second Sunday of Advent I've included verses from the gospel for next Sunday, Advent 3. Here we catch the famous scene of Jesus' unconventional cousin John the Baptist alongside the Jordan River. Far removed from the Holy City Jerusalem and its temple that people believed connected heaven and earth, John offers a baptism of repentance for new beginnings. After John more or less quotes the prophet Isaiah who wrote hope and a future to the exiles in Babylon, a future that would happen because everyone – "all flesh"– would see God's salvation, onlookers (waiting for their turn to be baptized?) asked John what they needed to do to get ready for the inversion and subversion of the status quo that would happen with God's arrival in their midst.
Preparing for Christmas
In response to people asking how on earth they could get ready for God's wrathful judgment, John says, "If you have two coats—share. If you have food—share." The root of the Greek word translated share means "gift giving." To religious types (like us?), this is astounding! Foretelling God's fiery arrival, John didn't say, "run and hide" or "go and pray," nor did he remotely suggest, "make costly sacrifices to atone for your sins."
John the cousin of Jesus the forthcoming Messiah said, "Share, give a gift." Go beyond yourself and get beyond yourselves! If you have more than you really need, share it with the have-nots. If you have two coats, give one to someone who has no coat. If you have more than enough food (how much do we really need?), give food to the hungry—and there are many ways to do that. Because when you share, if you give gifts, you prepare for the coming of God, our Judge and Redeemer by being a bearer of gracious gifts. When you give your excess (how much of everything do we really need?) to others, you help create a kindred community of equals. You become a big part of making God's reign happen right here, right now.
Getting Ready to Give
Be givers of gifts? Be the gift? Yes! But first, before we can be gifts or give gifts, we need to receive. No one can give what they don't have, and God never asks us to part with what we need in order to be well.
With almost two years of COVID-19, everyone has lost time and opportunities. Some have lost family and friends, or their own physical health has taken a big hit. In addition, I doubt if anyone is as emotionally and mentally whole as they'd like to be (note: but when are we ever?). We can celebrate and take advantage of the resources for mental health and emotional wellbeing that happily have circulated the interwebs. Despite the pandemic, let's still give gifts. If our wardrobe is minimal or our food budget is so stretched we truly can't donate any or share a simple meal, we still can give our neighbors the gift of our gracious, un-condemning presence.
Back in the days of John the Baptist, people believed the Jerusalem temple connected heaven and earth. These days God's people help bring heaven to earth like Jesus did. We can show everyone we are an inclusive rather than an exclusive community. We can listen to them and hear their stories. We even can invite them to Advent or Christmas worship. Amidst so many consumer-focused days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday (maybe originally an afterthought, but an excellent one), how counter-cultural would that be to show and tell them how Jesus still is the reason for this season?