- John the Baptist shouted these words at self-satisfied religious leaders who had come out to see the spectacle of this weird prophet in the wilderness. What fruits are worthy of repentance?
- One translator says that their conduct needed to be consistent with an abhorrence of sin. What does that mean?
- In The Message Eugene Petersen says, “It’s your life that must change.” How would your life change if it expressed your abhorrence of sin? You don’t become a policeman for everyone else when you change your attitude toward sin. Your attitude is shaped by your relationship with Christ. What did Jesus do because of his abhorrence of sin?
- One Sunday in a Bible class my teacher said, “Do fruit axiomatic of radical reorientation.” What did he mean?
When I was a little girl, I loved to have company. I loved using the “good” china and the “company” glasses. I loved the fuss and the sights, smells and sounds of getting ready for people to come to our house for Christmas. I was not usually involved in the planning, so as we were bustling about, I had to ask, “Who’s coming?” When Uncle Walt and Aunt Viv came by themselves, it was easier to get ready than if there would be grandparents, other aunts and uncles, and perhaps a neighbor. The number and names of the guests determined what sort of preparation was appropriate.
The arrival of Christ required very specific preparation, and God gave that task to a specific person, designated for the task before he was born. Advocates of abortion on demand speak of the “products of conception” as if they were a bag of marbles rather than a person. In the story of John the Baptist, the Bible reveals that the “products of conception” are not random cells to God. John the Baptist, chosen before he was ever born to prepare the way for Christ, was known by God from the moment of conception. The contents of Elizabeth’s uterus were not subject to her “right to choose,” because God had a plan for that baby. The nine-month gestation of John the Baptist was part of John’s preparation to be the fulfillment of God’s plans for the arrival of the Christ. God knew, Malachi knew, John’s father Zechariah knew, and even John himself knew, as evidenced by his response in the womb to the arrival of Christ’s mother.
What did John do to prepare the way for Christ?
Isaiah had said he would make rough places smooth and crooked places straight. How did he do that?
He warned people that God was about to be unleashed on earth. In John’s fiery sermons people had a foretaste of the searing light of Christ flashing into the dark corners of the human spirit that fake religiosity had covered up. In John’s admonitions, people were forewarned that God was tired of empty ritual and ceremony that diverted attention from self-worship manifested in oppressive and dismissive cultural practices. John stirred people’s hearts and made them ask, “What should we do?” as the people in Jerusalem would later ask on Pentecost. In response, he offered them baptism in water, even as he prepared them for the baptism of fire that would come on Pentecost.
During the Advent season, we try to enter into a spirit of waiting and experience what it would be like to be waiting for the Messiah. We try to enter into the crowd listening to John the Baptist, and we try to anticipate Christ’s coming along with them. This is good preparation for us to help us understand what it is like for the people in the world around us who do not know Jesus. We need to understand and love them, even when they pick on us for making a big deal out of Christmas. Some will refuse to say, “Merry Christmas,” because they don’t want to pretend to believe in Christ. Instead of being angry that they are making a “war on Christmas” we need to think how it would be not to know Christ. Why would you celebrate Christmas at all if you didn’t know Christ? No wonder they just want to call it “The Holidays.”
Most of us prepare for Christmas by seeking out an opportunity to do something kind for the poor or the sick. We give food or we give money to buy food. We buy an extra jacket or pair of shoes and take it to a shelter. We put money in the Salvation Army kettle. We take an angel from the tree at church and buy gifts for a prisoner’s child. These are all good things to do, and these are kindnesses that Christ blesses in his service, but the truth is that anybody can do these things. Many people who not only don’t believe in Christ but who actually campaign to shut down the message of Christ still do kind deeds at Christmas or at other times.
We who are preparing for the arrival of the Christ-child need to do something at Christmas that only a Christian can do. We need to be ready to share Christ with every heart God is now preparing to hear this Word. When we are in the store and elbow to elbow with other frantic shoppers, if there is a conflict or a confrontation, we need to share Christ. Everybody can share food, but only a Christian can share Christ. These days, when everybody is stressed out, I say, “The peace of Christ be with you,” as I take my receipt from the cashier in any store. I count on God to have prepared the hearts who will hear the words I say, and I count on God to carry those words to the ears that need to hear them. I may also say “Merry Christmas!” but you know and I know that those words are not a testimony to Christ’s saving power. They have become a social mantra that many people say with no testimony intended. Before I go shopping I prepare to do something for the people I meet that only a Christian can do.
What is God preparing you to do for Christ this Christmas? You are unique. Just like John the Baptist, God knew your name before you were born, too. God already had plans for you before you said your first word, and he has been preparing you all your life for the fulfillment of the gifts and talents that are uniquely yours. You can do something in service for Christ that no other person can ever do. As you think about preparing for Christmas this year, think about what God is preparing you to do. Ask God for a sensitive spirit to hear his call and to do his work as the opportunity comes your way. Be yourself. Be completely and uniquely you. Don’t fret over what anyone else can do. Simply speak the words or give the gift or touch the heart that is your unique mission. Just as John the Baptist faithfully served God by doing what God had prepared him to do, respond to what God is preparing you to do in a world that needs Christ more than it needs a merry Christmas.
Readings for Sunday, July 15, 2012
Amos 7:7-15 Psalm 85:8-13 Ephesians 1:3-14 Mark 6_14-29
Has anyone ever told you something true that you wished you did not know? It is a common problem. A wife hears the truth that her husband prefers another woman. A father hears that his son has been killed in an auto accident. A young girl discovers that her best friend has begun dating the boy she dreams of. A mother is told that her baby was stillborn.
Most of us try to live by the principle of telling the truth, but we don’t always like the truth.
Some people avoid the truth by pretending it is not so. Some enforce their willful ignorance of the truth by abusing other people who refuse to play along. The prophet Amos and John the Baptist both faced that problem. They spoke the truth as God instructed them to do. People who preferred lies forcefully rejected them.
Amos, a Judean, showed up in Israel and began to preach that God was mad at neighboring countries. The Israelites were glad to hear that God was angry with their enemies. That truth sounded good, and they were eager to hear more of the same. However, when Amos announced that God thought Israel was out of line, not true when measured by a plumb line, the people of the northern kingdom took offense. They told him to go prophesy in Judah, and never to come back to Israel, because they did not like the kind of truth Amos told. Amos accused them of selfishness and greed and addiction to personal pleasure. He said God thought their sacrifices, offerings and worship activities were completely dishonest shams. He accused them of not actually worshiping God, no matter how good things looked. Amos was made persona non grata in Israel, because he was a loudmouth troublemaker.
John the Baptist offended a lot of people, too. He called the religious leaders vipers and he accused the king of adultery. Unlike Amos who was simply run out of town, John was actually arrested. Ultimately he was beheaded, because he, too, was a loudmouth troublemaker.
When standing for truth might cost someone power or celebrity status, many people reject the truth and pretend it isn’t so. When Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” to which Pilate responded, “What is truth?” Pilate knew that Jesus was speaking truth, and Pilate knew that the religious leaders and their mob were speaking lies, but Pilate did not want to deal with the truth. His job was to keep riots down. In his worldview, Jesus, the itinerant rabbi that had the whole world in an uproar, was nothing but another loudmouth troublemaker. Jesus was executed, because Pilate could not accept truth.
As Christians we, too, are called to be troublemakers. We are to be little Christs, sprinkled around in the culture like salt sprinkled on a stew. We are supposed to be busy telling the truth all the time. The truth about God. The truth about Christ. The truth about our life in relationship with Christ. We are to reject lies and live truth, and if we do that some people will hate us. If we say that an unborn baby is a living human being, we might be hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that a human embryo is a living human being, we might be even more hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that God does not create people with a genetic identity that runs counter to God’s own model for family structures, then we will be hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that we cannot show kindness to anyone without doing it in the name of Christ, and that therefore, we cannot ever perform completely secular service, we will be scorned, if not hated, and we may suffer some social and legal consequences.
Nevertheless, we are called to be troublemakers. Loving, peaceful, kind, truthful little Christlike troublemakers. We must expect the consequences the culture visits on troublemakers.