Plotting the Resurrection
“Bear 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.”
For the last two years, construction workers been widening the highway near our home. We live in a rocky area, so every time I drive by the construction site, I see a sign that reads, “Blasting Zone Ahead.” It’s a warning that they’re building the road with the help of dynamite.
John the Baptist is like God’s dynamite in today’s passage. He’s preparing the way for the Lord by shocking people into mending their ways. There’s nothing warm or gentle about his words. And not much hint of joy or even kindness. Get your life together, he says, or there will be consequences.
Luke ends today’s reading by saying that John “proclaimed the good news to the people.” At first glance, it’s hard to see much good news in John’s warnings. Most of the readings for Advent are about love, joy, and hope, and those seem to be in short supply in today’s scripture.
Yet hidden in John’s warnings is an invitation to help prepare the way for God’s kingdom.
People are hungry, John tells us, so feed them.
People are naked, so clothe them.
People are oppressed, so treat them fairly.
If we do these things, then those who suffer around us will begin to experience the Good News.
A pastor friend of mine puts it this way: every act of Christian obedience opens up some space for God to work in the world. It’s not that God needs our help, my friend would say. But He invites us to take part in bringing his kingdom to life in this world.
Every fall, Katharine S. White, the famed New Yorker fiction editor, put on her overcoat, grabbed a hat and some tools, and went out to the garden to plant her bulbs. She did this even late in life, when her health was failing, because she wanted her flowers to bloom even if she was not alive to see them.
“As the years went by and age overtook her,” wrote her husband, E. B. White, “there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion—the small, hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection."
This advent, may our days be filled with small acts of kindness that prepare the way for the Lord.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:
What are some ways that you could live out today’s scripture? Are there ways you can feed the hungry or help those in need, during this season of Advent? Who in your community or your church might need to experience the joy of God’s love this Advent? And what parts of your life need mending, as you await the coming of the Lord?
Lord, may we always be on the lookout for ways to help others experience your love and joy and grace. Prepare our hearts and our world to receive you. Amen.
READ THE SCRIPTURE IN CONTEXT
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.