Advent 3: A Rough Salvation

Rejoice — the salvation of God is here and all flesh shall see it, but it isn’t all soothing balm and feathery pillows.  It is a rough salvation.  It is a baptism of repentance, it is something that is good for people, but it is a little rough.  But rejoice, this baptism, this repentance, this clean slate, this hard road to transformation and renewal, will ultimately be that salvation that all flesh shall see.  We have steadfast hope that it will come, we prepare ourselves and the rest of the world for it, we want that peace, and we rejoice that it is coming, it is so close you can almost feel the breath of the one who is coming standing right behind you.

But before he comes, his messenger, his prophet, his opening act is letting us know what is about to come — before we get too comfortable and assume that Jesus is just going to come and clean up the mess while we sit and watch, we had better pay attention to the Prophet sent to prepare us for Christ.  John the Baptist is sort of like the coach in Rocky.

John the Baptist makes three basic points here:

  1. Bear fruits worthy of repentance — remember last week? Just saying sorry God and moving on doesn’t cut it.  We must wish to change our whole outlook, the way we think, and become renewed to a better way of life.
  2. Do not give yourselves false assurances:
    1. the temptation back then was “well, I don’t really have to try to do the right thing because I have Abraham as an ancestor and God really liked Abraham, so I’ll just try to get in good by association not by substance.” Coat tail riding.
    2. Sometimes that is what saves the people from completely breaking their relationship with God, but the wild prophet preaching by the Jordan tells us that such is no longer the case. We must go deeper than that.  We must be better than that.  And any assurances you try to give yourself that somehow you are off the hook just because of who your kin is has become utterly false, useless, no good.
    3. Don’t look to Abraham, take a look at yourselves. The prophet says, “the tree that does not bear food fruit is cut down and destroyed, turned into ash and nothing in a brush fire.”  In short, the bad fruit will be taken and shown for what it is — ash and nothing, spoiled potential that has become an utter waste.
  3. Self-awareness will save your life:
    1. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that self-awareness will take the place of Jesus Christ as the link to salvation, to wholeness in God and to right relationship with others.    I’m saying that self-awareness is the beginning of repentance.
    2. Self-awareness is listening to the voice of God within, to the movement of the Holy Spirit, and looking realistically at your life. What would your friends say about you?  Are they right?  What would your…not friends say?  Are they seeing something there that you aren’t and maybe they are more right than you know?  I don’t know.
    3. But I do know that if you’ve heard the prophet’s call to change your mind, renew your mind — remember that is what repentance means — if you’ve heard that this morning and if the words of John the Baptist have touched your heart as he called to us from the pages of Scripture — you may be wondering: what now? What should we do?  Well, good.  You are on the same page as the brood of vipers.  And with me and with most other people.

John’s response is not likely what they wanted to hear.  To the ones who had possessions enough to spare, he said split them right down the middle and give them to those in need and have less.   All of a sudden tithing seems like a lot less demanding, doesn’t it.  The prophet is telling us: “Be generous in your dealings with others.”

John’s response to those who were tax collectors was to take no more than was owed.  You see back then, tax collectors in Judea were Jewish people collecting taxes for Rome.   People saw them as sell-outs.  And to add insult to injury, they often took a little extra — some to go to Herod the king, some to go to the local officials, some to go in their own pockets.  And they were rough.   Tax collectors were more like Don Corleone from the Godfather and less like some paper-pusher working for the IRS.   To these people, infamous for corruption and violence John the Baptist said “take what is owed and nothing more.  Be honest in your dealings with others.”

John’s response to the soldiers, a mix of Romans and Jewish people, was very similar.  Now, these are guys standing before him in armor, they know how to use a sword, they’ve probably killed and they’ve certainly harmed others.  They are even bigger sell-outs or worse they are the occupying power of oppression.  And they come and take money from folks too.. but not as a matter of duty.   “Threats or false accusation” are their tactics says the prophet.  They scare people, they accused them falsely and may indeed by this ruin lives and reputations, all to fill up their pockets a little more.  To this dangerous, powerful, and rough group the prophet says, “be satisfied with your wages.”  The prophet is saying that what you do to others in the pursuit of money is not worth it.  It is not worth the pain it causes them and it is no worth losing your own soul to the burning pile of brush.

Not exactly a model of positive thinking, is he?  When people think of rejoicing, people don’t generally think of being called out and being called a brood of vipers.  Self-awareness, this is the hope of repentance and we rejoice that God comes to us in prophets like John and helps us to see ourselves with honest eyes so that we may have renewed minds, repentant minds, changed lives and a changed world.  Rejoice!  Salvation is coming!  Rejoice!  Repentance before encountering the sweet, sweet face of Jesus is possible!  Rejoice!  God is not finished with us yet, God is pushing us further along the path, God is encouraging us into righteousness.   Rejoice! God thinks that we are better than falling back on the righteousness of others and Rejoice! We can be renewed, either by baptism if we haven’t yet been baptized or by renewal of the Baptismal covenant if we have!  We can follow the way of John of old in our time now!  We can encounter Jesus who is coming to bring hope and peace and joy and love and wholeness.  Rejoice! The way is being prepared and our salvation is close at hand.  Rejoice! Amen.

Espanol

                    Este es el Domingo de Adviento dedicada a la Alegría. En el Evangelio de San Lucas vemos a Juan el Bautista hablando a la multitud.

Lo que Juan hace en el Evangelio es mostrarnos cómo podemos dejar de vivir en formas que hacen daño en este mundo y podemos empezar a vivir de una manera que inspiran la bondad.

Él les dice a aquellos de nosotros que pueden compartir deben hacerlo con los necesitados.

Él les dice a los cobradores de impuestos y soldados para ser honesto y justo en sus relaciones con otras personas, no tomar más dinero de lo que se les debe.

Él les dice que hacer el bien y para proteger a la gente y dejar de ser corrupto.

Si el profeta estuviera aquí hoy creo que él nos preguntaba: “¿Uestedes, qué están haciendo que duele otros, o el mundo, o usted mismo? Puede ser que sea difícil dejar de esos comportamientos, pero ahora es el momento. Eliminar las cosas malas y llenar su corazón con bondad.”

Y es por eso que llamamos hoy el día de la Alegría. Nos alegramos en la venida del Profeta para ayudar a prepararnos al encuentro de Jesucristo y nos alegramos de que Dios nos está mostrando una mejor manera de ser. Sin esta gracia no sería posible para nosotros saber. Dios nos ama tanto que nos muestran los caminos del bien y nos alegramos en eso. Amén.

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