3rd Sunday of Advent
Gospel of Luke 3:10-18
“What should we do?” A question that rings close to home, does it not? Considering our current social, geo-political, and religious environments I am wondering how often we, here in this sanctuary, have asked ourselves, and each other, that very same question, “what should we do?” Considering St. Luke wrote these words almost 2000 years ago, I find it interestingly significant that the concern, confusion, and desperation of an ancient people has so much relevance and poignancy for us here today.
As we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist, “a voice crying out in the desert (preparing) the way of the Lord,” was fervently calling a sinful people to repentance. They responded to his call and to his message of hope and, in today’s Gospel, they ask the question of the penitent, “what should we do?” A question that we too often have asked ourselves.
Speaking for myself, I will tell you that I do give the crowd in Luke’s Gospel credit for asking John the Baptist this question. Let me explain.
As a teenager I had both the privilege and the curse of working for my father. As the foreman for a large masonry company I had opportunity to spend every summer of my teenage years working for my dad as a hod-carrier. These summers were a privilege because I got to spend time with my father, the man who taught me how to work hard. These summers were also a curse because I got to spend time with my father, the man who taught me the meaning of hard work. The days were long and hot, the lifting was heavy, and the work was hard and always behind schedule.
I learned a lot of things during those summers. I learned it was best to not let anyone know that you were the boss’s son. I learned that not everyone appreciates a 16-year-old know-it-all, and I learned to never, and I mean never, ask my father, “What do you want me to do next?”
My father’s theory about work is simple; If you have time to ask what you should be doing, then you simply have too much time. Whenever I made the mistake of asking my father what I should be doing, believe you me, he made sure that I never had time to ask that question again.
I am not saying that my dad and John the Baptist have much in common, but when I hear John’s response to the question, “What should we do?”, I hear his reply in my father’s voice.
John does not soften his words or his message. He does not allow for excuses or rationalizations he very plainly and simply answers their question. He tells them to live differently and to do the right thing!
The crowd of people standing before John the Baptist were a people who were in fear of judgement. They were a people who were convicted by their sin. They were a people who were confused, and concerned, and desperately seeking guidance and direction. They were a people who had responded to the Good News and believed they could be saved from condemnation and eternal death. They wanted to know what they needed to do.
The challenge presented to us by today’s Gospel is to find relevance in the instructions of John the Baptist. Is it possible for us living here in this little corner of the world, in modern-day, in a period of time rampant with turmoil, confusion, betrayal, and mistrust, to find guidance and direction? Are the words of John the Baptist just as meaningful and beneficial for us today, as they were some 2000 years ago? Can we really find the answer to our question, “What should we do?”
Yes, I believe we can. I believe we can find relevance in today’s Gospel. And, yes, I believe we can find an answer to our questions, “What should we do?”
First, John tells us to turn our attention to those with the greatest need. He says, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” This Advent season, as we are preparing for the coming of our Lord, we should be taking stock of our abundance and from that abundance we are called to charity. For us, as believers in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, charity is not optional. Our blessed abundance is not for our benefit, rather it is for the benefit for those who are in need.
Second, John tells us to stop exploiting our neighbor and/or our position. His words to the tax collector and to the soldier are clear instructions to cease in taking advantage of another’s weakness or lowly position. A practice we often continue to this day when we continue to deny the rights given by God to all human being: the right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.
Thirdly, John tell us to turn our attention to the one who is coming. He reminds us that, “one mightier than (he) is coming… (who) will baptize… with the holy Spirit and fire.” Just like the crowds of people who ventured out into the desert to hear the words of the man who wore camel hair and ate wild honey and locusts, so too have we, the modern-day follower of Christ, allowed the strife, discontent, and disappointments of this life to diminish our hope. Now more than ever this world needs to hear the message which we have been commissioned to share. A message of hope, and joy, and salvation.
My brothers and sisters in Christ let us today take heed of the words of John the Baptist. Let us repent from our sin, cease our accumulation of more for the sake of having more, and facilitate life in our homes, our places of work, our church, and in our community. May we come before this altar today fully expecting the coming of the Lord and actively and enthusiastically engage in the building of his kingdom. This, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, may be the day we cease to ask, “what should we do?” and actively do that to which God has called us.