A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Advent Meditation: Get Your Act Together

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:1-12).

John the Baptist was an unforgettable figure. His clothing was not fashionable and his diet would not have made its way into the latest culinary magazine. He was a strange figure to behold. But, it wasn't his clothing and dining fare that made such an impression; it was his preaching. John minced no words and he left no doubt as to what was necessary on the part of God's people to prepare for the arrival of the One who would bring deliverance.

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near"-- or conceptually stated, "Get your act together real quick! The kingdom of heaven has arrived!" John did not leave anyone wondering how such repentance looked. The people were to bear fruit worthy of repentance. John was calling the people to more than saying bedtime prayers and reading a brief biblical meditation to start the day. He was insisting in no uncertain terms that with the inauguration of God's kingdom in Jesus, God expected nothing less than a kingdom way of life.

Luke's Gospel gets even more specific in delineating the specifics of this repentance:

And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages" (Luke 3:1-14).

It's one thing for John to tell us we are not measuring up as we should. All of us know we can do better-- be a little nicer and a little more responsible-- eat our vegetables and exercise more. But once John starts telling us what to do with our money, he is clearly meddling. It appears, as far as the Baptizer is concerned, that our wallets and what we do with what's in them are essentially connected to our repentance, our getting our act together as kingdom citizens.

Perhaps when Mary and Zechariah, Simeon and Anna sing of God's great reversal of rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, they weren't speaking figuratively. Perhaps they were serious in a way that we must take them literally. And if we do, then perhaps our Advent preparations must amount to more than saying some special prayers and reading a few brief devotionals (though such things are important). Perhaps Advent preparation, to be what it should be, involves our whole life in all of its aspects. In Advent preparation we are reminded that our allegiance to God's kingdom seriously qualifies all other allegiances.

Advent preparation is about repentance, about getting our act together.

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