So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people… I love that end to the Gospel reading. With many other exhortations like, “You brood of vipers” John proclaimed the good news. Why would anyone consider John’s words good news???
This gospel follows on from last week’s gospel lesson in Luke chapter 3. John the Baptizer is out by the river Jordan, calling people to repentance and baptism. A clergy friend of mine decided that the outdoor blow up figures of Santa or Snoopy or snow globes just don’t capture the spirit of Advent. He wants to design a John the Baptizer outdoor figure, with ratty, crazy hair, disheveled beard matted with honey and bugs, arms raised in exhortation. That, he says, is a true symbol for this season. Repent, the kingdom of God is coming. Prepare for the coming of judgment. Don’t think that because you are a child of Abraham you’ll be alright…
Not exactly our picture of Christmas preparation. We prefer baby Jesus in the manger with clean animals and angels and shepherds. We prefer a children’s pageant, rather than John’s call for justice. Isn’t this week supposed to be about the candle of hope? That’s why it’s rose this week, rather than purple or blue.
John offers a vision of the kingdom of God that has God’s love and God’s justice at the center. That’s why his message, although difficult to hear, is also a message of hope and exactly what we really long for at Christmas.
We long for a silent and holy night. We long for peace and good will among all people. We want the hungry fed, we want the homeless sheltered, we want illness and disease done away with. We are uncomfortable with the hate speech we hear and the violence that hate engenders. We want to live in a just society where all people are welcomed and no one is an outcast.
John says that we have a responsibility to live into that kingdom now. The good news is that the kingdom of God, the world that we long for is coming. More difficult to hear, from this wild man, is that the kingdom of God comes through us. Not from outside into us, but from inside us out into the world.
We have been given so much. We have warm homes, we have several changes of clothes and enough food. If you’re like me, you spend most of this month running around making and buying wonderful things to give to the people you love most in the world.
John tells us that we have been given good things – not to indulge ourselves and those we love, but to share with others who don’t have what we have. He tells those with two coats to give one away, to share their food, not to extort or cheat others. John preached that we bring peace and justice into the world through our actions.
John’s exhortations are right in line with the commands of Jesus: Love God, love your neighbors as you love yourselves. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Because of the terror and war in the world, we are hearing a barrage of language, including from some good Christian people, that we ought not trust the strangers and refugees, that we ought to fence in our borders and keep ‘those people’ out. And maybe we should even carry a gun so we can shoot them before they shoot us.
Hate speech, warring language, the demonization of certain groups of people who are ‘not like us’ – it’s understandable that our anxiety about the future will produce such things. BUT. We are not called to be anxious or fearful. We are called to be Easter People, loving people, gentle people, as Paul writes to the Philippian church… living examples that all are welcome in God’s kingdom – there are no outcasts, no strangers. We are called to love and care for all of God’s children, to work for justice and peace, to spread the good news of God’s compassion and care for each one we meet, regardless of who they are, regardless of their feelings towards us. Do unto other as you would have them do to you – NOT as they have done to you… NOT before they do to you. We are to treat others as we want to be treated, the way God has treated us. Graciously. Kindly. Lovingly.
Are we ready for this good news? The kingdom of God is coming. We are either helping to usher it in or we are getting in the way. One day we will meet God face to face. Peace and justice will reign. Are we ready?
Our collect says it well – Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us – because it is only through God’s power to love us that we find the power and strength to love others. May we heed John’s words and live as flames of love shining into the darkness of hate and despair. Amen.