A sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 12, 2021
Luke 3:7-18 (First Nations Version Indigenous Translation)
I come to you in the name of one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We continue our Advent preparations with the second half of John’s story today.
Our introduction last week set the stage for this moment of preaching that John gives to the people who have come out to the river, to hear his words, to be cleansed in the purification ceremony, to connect to a faith, a relationship with God, that has grown tenuous, that has become muddled, unclear, crowded in upon by all of the attachments that the creation has put on it, the “right” ways of access, of worship, “right” ways that have been dreamed up by the religious and political authorities over generations, not coming from God but from our attempts to control our relationship with God.
And to that “right” way of access and worship, John comes tearing out of the wilderness, with wild unkempt hair, furs hand crafted to cover his body, scrawny from a diet of locusts and wild honey, and his first declaration to those in power and authority who have come out to see what this religious baptizer is up to out in the wilderness, at the edge of the river, is to cry our “You nest of poisonous snakes! You brood of vipers!”
John makes this declaration not as condemnation, but as a challenge.
“Who warned you to run and hide from the coming storm? Prove to others by the way you live that you have returned to the good road.”
Who warned you?
You, the religious authorities and powers, you must prove to all of those who have gathered here, who gather before you for religious and spiritual direction, that you are on the good road, not the other way around.
Not only that you are on the good road, but that you have returned to the good road, because you have gone astray, and part of this proof you must show is the acknowledgment that you, the religious leaders, the authorities, have gone astray.
Give up your fear of losing power and control, to repent, to admit your failings, and in that walk on the good road, which will bring the people together with you to make the paths straight.
This is quite the challenge from John today.
A challenge that comes with a warning: “Do not think you can say ‘Father of Many Nations is our ancestor.’”
Do not think you can just claim authority because of a lineage. A connection to the ancient line of spiritual leaders.
God could raise up the stones to be the children of Abraham if God so desired. That connection is not, in and of itself, enough, all, it should not be the basis of their spiritual authority and practice.
For if it is, “The tomahawk is at the root of the trees. The ones that have no good fruit will be cut down and tossed into the fire.”
John understands justice today through a lens of what is morally just, of what is ethical within the constructs of society.
This is the path of the good road that John is calling people to walk.
It sounds so basic coming from John today. Simple asks that we surely meet. Simple asks that could not have been controversial in his time, and surely are not controversial today.
I’m not sure we meet even these most basic standards as a general practice. We certainly don’t as a society, and the question stands before us to challenge us as individuals, as Christians, as followers of the good road, do we rise to even the basic standards of morality that John puts before us today:
- If you have two blankets (two coats) give one to someone else with none
- Share your food
- Collect only which is permitted for the operations of the society
- Do not use fear or violence to coerce, extort
It’s telling in the Gospel today that when the people heard this “they began to have hope.”
Because it doesn’t sound that bad.
That’s all we have to do to be on the good road?
That’s great! We can accomplish that!
But that’s not how our society operates, is it?
We certainly make an effort as the people of St. Stephen’s to follow this and more as Jesus will lay before us, so how might we be called today to be like John and challenge the authorities and leaders of our time to live into basic standards of morality and justice?
When we continue to have neighbors experiencing homelessness, living through atmospheric rivers and near freezing temperatures, but not technically cold enough to trigger a government-defined “severe weather event,” how is our society, our elected authorities, meeting a very basic standard of morality and justice?
John warns us today about becoming complacent in our ways.
The people begin to ponder if John may be the Chosen One, for his prophetic voice and call to justice are shaking the foundations of society and faith.
And John stops those questions.
“There is one coming who is greater and more powerful than I…I am not even worthy to bend low and untie his moccasins.”
“He is the one who will perform the purification ceremony [not with water but] with the fire of the Holy Spirit! He will separate the grain from the husks. His harvest basket is in his hands. He will store the good grain in his barn, the husks he will burn away with a fire no one can put out.”
Jesus is coming.
Jesus is coming and will put before us a call that will challenge us to walk this good road in ways that we expect and ways we could never imagine.
To love our neighbor as ourself.
A simple call of justice that has challenged us from the moment it was uttered by Christ, that challenges us to this day as our society has evolved and morphed into its current iteration that would rather pit us against one another for material and monetary gains, gains accessed through fear and violence, through extortion, through taking advantage, through taking more than is required, through dismissing our neighbor as worthy or deserving of our love, by dehumanizing them, by labeling them, dismissing them as less than, as incapable of receiving our love.
So, what to do?
What to do with this message from John that calls us to prepare for the Chosen One that is coming, that is coming to us in less than two weeks with his birth on Christmas?
What to do with this message from John that begins with “you nest of poisonous snakes!” and ends “With many more words Gift of Goodwill warned and encouraged the people with the good story of Creator’s good road.”?
We are called in this season of preparation, to celebrate the example of John that is brought before us each year. A prophetic voice calling out from the wilderness that challenges us to release the shackles of society in order to walk the good road. To know that we can release that which we have built up around us, to release that which the powers and authorities have deemed as the “good” of our society. Heeding the warnings that John shares while being encouraged in our faith that the good story of Creator’s good road always stands before us, ready for us to journey.
As we prepare for the arrival of Christ once more, we take the message of John to heart and ask how we as followers of the good road, as followers of Jesus, can call out the authorities of our day, and challenge them to see that justice isn’t about taking from one to give to another but rather about redistributing the excess so that all have equal access, so that all have their basic needs met, so that all can coexist within this creation in harmony with one another.
When we do this, we begin to see the good fruit blossom, we see the grain harvested for the betterment of all.
When we do this, we are ready for Christ to walk amongst us again.