You Brood of Vipers

Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Third Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

When we all get together on Christmas day, I’m sure we will want to enjoy the feel-good message of the Baptizer from today’s reading. “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?” MSG Luke 3:7-8

You may be wondering why this is included in the Advent readings. It is easy to see Christmas as the Hallmark, love, and kisses season, but that dilutes the meaning of God’s personal visit to our home planet.

Jesus delivered the same message that John did. Repent! God came as a human to tell us in person, face-to-face, that we need to step out of darkness into the light. Our problem is, we are familiar with the darkness.

10 Then the crowds would ask him, “Then what shall we do?” 11 And his answer was, “The man who has two shirts must share with the man who has none, and the man who has food must do the same.” Phillips

Have you ever thought of buying two of all your Christmas gifts and giving the second ones to the Salvation Army? Or, to a church food bank? Along with more food?

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Collect no more than you are required to.” 14 Then some soldiers also asked him, “And as for us—what should we do?” He told them, “Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay.” NET

It is not the job that is the issue, at least for most of us (murders take notice). How do we do the job is the issue. Is Jesus in the room? Do I treat everyone as though he/she is Jesus? Do I treat everyone as Jesus would?

You may have seen some of the You-tubers who buy two cups of coffee and sit beside a homeless person to share a cupa and conversation. Or those who spot a homeless person in need of a new winter coat and order one from Amazon to be delivered directly to the person sitting at 254 West 27th Street.

Why do we only think of giving a present to a needy person (and then only a child) at Christmas? Have—a fruit basket—chocolate covered strawberries—cheese box—etc.—shipped to someone who could use a special treat. If they are really in need, slip a crisp Franklin in an envelope and have the USPS deliver it; maybe put the church as the return address. Maybe do it in August or September to help start school.

Part of living in the dark is that we don’t see the people all around us who often just need a friendly smile. Treating people like friends does have some risk; they might actually become friends.

This Christmas, let’s try to repent.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Are You the Messiah?

Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay

Second Sunday of Advent

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

When we remember that the Sons of Zebedee argued over who should sit on the right hand of Jesus, do you suppose that the Baptizer was tempted to say, “No, I’m not the Messiah, but I will sit beside him when he retakes the Throne of David.”

We know very little about John, son of Zechariah, except that he announced the arrival of the Messiah. How he did the announcing was certainly in the style of Malachi.

I am about to send My messenger, and he shall clear the way before Me. In a trice He shall enter His Temple, the Master Whom you seek, and the covenant’s messenger whom you desire, look, he comes, said the Lord of ArmiesThe Hebrew Bible by Robert Alter

When you reread that first sentence, you should notice that the “I” is also the “Me.” We take God to be saying this to Malachi, so, we should take God to be the one who is coming later. God, then, is saying He will enter the Temple, an act that will renew the Covenant relationship with His people.

To place this promise from God in context, Malachi was a prophet sometime from 515 to 458 BCE. [We know so little about Malachi that the name might be his title.] The people had returned from Babylon and the Temple had been rebuilt. But the people were losing their spirit. They were under the tight control of Syria, they had no king, no army, and no money. As with the Egyptian exodus, the people were dreaming about how good live had been under the Babylonians.

While things did improve, the old days of King David and King Solomon were never to reappear. There was a brief period of troubled independence under the Maccabees before the Romans took over.

Little wonder that the first followers of Yeshua considered him to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Malachi. That would have been especially true of those who heard the Baptizer preach and took his baptism. Jews of the First Century had to look back on nearly a thousand years of troubled times with only promises to keep them warm.

John baptized Jesus and told all who would listen, ‘He is the Messiah.’

We are not told what God said directly to John. It may be that his parents told he of the angel visits. His father was a priest, so John may have studied to be a priest as well. Or, he may have taken a unique path of his own. He seems to have taken the Nazarite vow, complete with mangy hair and strange diet. Some have suggested that he lived for a time in the Qumran community.

However he grew up, the Gospels all describe him as doing the job given to him. Clear a way for the Lord’s road, level in the desert a highway for our God! Isaiah 40:4 Alter John even refused at first to baptize Jesus; ‘I am not worthy.’

God selected John for an important mission, knowing that he had the inner strength to complete it. John was human, so likely had doubts at times. Maybe as a teen he rebelled against the whole idea. Maybe he had an eye of a girl he wanted to marry. Whatever, he did the job.

We each have a small job God wants us to do. We will not be immortalized for it. Often, no one else will even know we did it. Sometimes, we may not know we did something God wanted us to do. But life is filled with small things. In prison, John was satisfied to hear from Jesus, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind are recovering their sight, cripples are walking again, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, dead men are being brought to life again, and the good news is being given to those in need. And happy is the man who never loses his faith in me.” Luke 7:22-23 Phillips

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence