A space for telling stories about the church and the people who gather here.
In last Sunday’s Advent passage from Luke’s gospel, we witnessed a sudden prophetic outburst from Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah proclaimed that his newborn son would “go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.” John will prepare the people for the savior. John will blaze the trail.
Turning to the third week of Advent, we see John in action. John is a person who famously dwells in the wild, just beyond the civilized confines of town. The passage begins as crowds of curious people enter the wilderness to repent and be baptized by him. John greets them harshly: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John does not mince words.
Mere repentance isn’t enough for John: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” In other words, show us the evidence. This demand puzzles the people. They ask, “What then should we do?” John came prepared to answer this question: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” So…start sharing! Good enough. Then, John gets more specific. To the tax collectors: “Collect no more than the amount prescribed to you.” To the soldiers: “Do not exhort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” Words of repentance don’t hold much weight for John. It’s when our words and actions are aligned that we show evidence of a truly repentant heart, ready for renewal.
After John explains his criteria for repentance and baptism, the people begin to speculate about him. There’s always an aura of mystery surrounding John. Is he the one we’re waiting for, the Messiah? The passage comes to an end as John squashes the speculation: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John knows his role. He is the one who will prepare the way for the savior.
During this third week of Advent, we have an invitation to examine ourselves. How often do our actions align with our words? How often do our deeply-held beliefs lead to bearing good “fruit” for the world to enjoy? Put simply, do we practice what we preach?
During our journeys of faith, it is always important to ask these foundational questions of ourselves. After all, actions tend to speak louder than words. It’s cliché, but it’s probably true. Here, as people of the Anabaptist tradition, we might be reminded of the famous quote from Menno Simons that surely echoes John the Baptist:
“True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love; it dies to flesh and blood; it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires; it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul; it clothes the naked; it feeds the hungry; it comforts the sorrowful; it shelters the destitute; it aids and consoles the sad; it does good to those who do it harm; it serves those that harm it; it prays for those who persecute it; it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord; it seeks those who are lost; it binds up what is wounded; it heals the sick; it saves what is strong (sound); it becomes all things to all people.”
By John Tyson