Living as God’s People (December 16, 2018)
Advent is John’s time. He’s out in the wilderness, preaching and urging us to prepare the way of the Lord.
I suggested last week that Advent is a time of pregnancy. In Advent, we get ready to give birth to God’s good news in the world. Preparing the way of the Lord is a little like preparing for birth.
We prepare the way of the Lord by living in this world as God’s people.
We live as God’s people when we seek to discern the places in our lives where God is present.
We live as God’s people when we seek to reach out in love to all people.
We live as God’s people when we take time to reflect and ponder on all the blessings in our lives, and when we share those blessings with others.
We live as God’s people when we feel God moving within us. God is waiting to be born in us, in our lives, in our world. God simply cannot wait to burst out and be born.
At it’s heart, that’s John’s message.
But John is more of a curmudgeon than I am. He failed the Dale Carnegie course in how to win friends and influence people. Just listen to him:
“Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
It doesn’t matter who you think you are. What matters is how you live:
- you are God’s people—live like it;
- you are God’s children—show it in how you live;
- you are part of the Jesus movement—show it by your actions;
- you are God’s people in the world—show it by living with compassion and grace and love.That’s exactly what the crowds who came out to hear John preach ask him. “So what are we supposed to do?”
- We are God’s people. That’s our deepest and truest identity. The question John asks us to think about is, “If this is who we are, how are we going to live it out? How are we going to show our truest identity? How will we live as God’s people in the world?”
“If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”
Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?” He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.”
Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”
I want you to notice two things: what John doesn’t say; and then notice what he does say.
John does not say, “Escape from the world. Go on a permanent retreat in the wilderness where you can worship and serve God properly. Go out into the middle of nowhere so you can meditate and chant mantras and offer prayers day and night for the rest of your lives.”
This is not a call for us to become an ascetic. It’s not a call to escape the world. It’s not a call to abstain from life.
Instead, John says that we are to inhabit our lives. Live fully in the world, and live as a child of God.
If you have two coats, give one away. The same with your food. If you have more than you need, give to those who have less than they need.
To the tax collectors, John says, “Be honest and above board in your work. Don’t collect more than is just.”
To the soldiers, John says, “Don’t use your power to beat down the people or threaten the weak or extort from anyone.”
To teachers, John says, “Teach your students well, and don’t abuse your authority in the classroom.”
To doctors and nurses and medical techs, John says, “Remember that your patients are people and not just cases, and treat them as the precious and beloved people they are.”
To politicians, John says, “Don’t use your position for personal gain, but remember that you were elected to serve all people and you have to work together, even with those you disagree with, to make it happen.”
To retired folks, John says, “Use the time you have now to discover ways of helping and serving other people.”
To all of us, John says, “Be who you are. You are God’s people. You have been blessed. Now be a blessing. You have gifts to give. So stop hoarding. Stop procrastinating. Stop making excuses.”
This is who we are. We are God’s people, and John calls us to think about how we are going to live as God’s people.
John dares to suggest that holiness is not some ethereal and mysterious thing. If we’re willing to think that nothing is too ordinary for God, then we’ll understand that the kingdom of God is here, within us, around us. All of life is holy because God is at work in us. We are pregnant and God is just waiting to be born in us.
And when God is born, the whole world becomes more holy. The whole world is made more whole, more loving, more compassionate, more grace–full.
Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa of Calcutta, points to that fact with these words found on the wall of her home for children:
“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
“If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
“If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
“What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
“If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
“The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
“Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
“In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
We are God’s people. This Advent, we will live as God’s people.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
December 16, 2018 (3rd Sunday of Advent)
Luke 3: 7–18
Zephaniah 3: 14–20
Philippians 4: 4–7