December 20, 2018

Luke 3: 7-1

7 John 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? 8 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. 9 Even 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.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him,”And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah. 16 John 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. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Intuiting a coming, cosmic change, John spoke in the traditional Hebrew prophetic voice, to warn common folk of what he understood as God’s coming: a fiery judgment for their sin. And what is sin but willful separation from God. John offered baptism to folks to repent of their sin, exhorting even the resented tax-collectors and distrusted soldiers, to give up their unjust acts, and to strive for a righteous daily life.

In a sense, John’s ministry was a bridge, helping us to cross from the ancient Hebrew understanding of God’s relationship to us, to an incredible new understanding that Jesus was bringing to the world. John was certainly preparing the way for God’s new kingdom to come, but not a coming that any at that time could possibly imagine. In truth, it’s taken humanity two thousand years to grow into even partial understanding of this remarkable, holy gift that God has given us: God’s Self, through Jesus Christ, God with us.

- Marjorie Taggart