The Revelation of Light

Scripture Text: Luke 3: 7-18 (Advent 3C)

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin 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. 9Even now the ax 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.” 10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers 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.”

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

So, again, John is not known for his pastoral ministry.  I mean, I’m thinking that calling congregants a “brood of vipers” may not be the best evangelism tool, but, sure, John, you do you!  But instead of walking out of the church service, the people responded with a question: “What, then, shall we do?”  And John answered them by telling them to, essentially, follow a different way.  The answer to the average person who barely had enough was to share.  The answer to the tax collectors was to collect no more than what was owed.  The answer to the soldiers was to not bully people and not expect more than you are due. So, in the midst of John’s seemingly harsh sermon, the people begin to see what they thought might be the Light.  And at that point, John turned his words toward the Light, the true Light, the Light of God coming into the world.   

Our ears are probably not trained to hear such harshness.  We look to the Light for peace, for hope, for the answer to our prayers.  But Light is not an anesthetic for what ails us and if we think getting to the Light will solve all the problems and injustices of the world, we probably haven’t been paying close attention.  The truth is, Light is not merely a balm; it is also a revelation.  Light illumines everything—both the beauty and the things of this world that we would rather to just sweep away.  No longer can the world hide its fault lines beneath the ground.  They are laid bare for all to see.   

As we learn to see differently, learn to see that revelatory Light, we become acutely aware of those things that do not belong in our world.  We begin to notice injustices rather than “bad luck”.  We begin to notice hunger and poverty rather than someone who just hasn’t applied themselves.  We begin to notice that peace is not just an absence of war but a fulfillment of what this world is meant to be.  We begin to see that we are stewards of this planet and not just consumers.  We begin to be a part of the Light dawning into a world that needs it desperately.

Perhaps John’s way of speaking was not the one to which we’re accustomed.  Perhaps it even turns it off a bit.  But when it was all said and done, John had one vision—to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the One who was coming to show us the Light.  But in order for us to know the Light, we have to know ourselves, we have to know this world.  We have to be a part of the Light shining into the world—the whole world.

Justice is not a case of the “haves” giving to the “have nots”.  That is far too unworthy and shallow an interpretation of God’s intent for us.  We must recognize that all people are our brothers and sisters…we are all members of God’s family.  We would want the best for our family…It is our responsibility as part of being God’s children to actively try to make God’s Kingdom come on earth.  (Desmond Tutu) 

Grace and Peace,


When to Pull the Gospel Card

playing-cards46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1: 46-55)

The Magnificat…Mary’s Song of freedom and mercy.  We all know the passage.  Most of us probably have sort of a love-fear relationship with it.  Each Advent we read this passage with perhaps a little reticence.  We love the words and the promises that they bring.  But, deep down, we’re probably a little afraid of on which side of the fence we might be standing.  These lovely, merciful words have been threatening the ways of the world since their very beginning.  E. Stanley Jones called the Magnificat “the most revolutionary document in the world.”  It is God’s Revolution, God’s Manifesto for the new creation.  It is said that the Russian czars were positively terrified of these words and the changes that they could incite.

The words are poetic and thoughtful.  But when you read them, it is clear that God exalts the poor, feeds the poor, helps the poor, and remembers the poor.  God brings the poor together just as God tears down and separates the mighty and the wealthy and the powerful.  Sadly, God sends the rich, those who do not see their need for God, away.  The Divine was not birthed by a princess or a queen.  God came through a young, terrified servant girl that would be raised up to be blessed by the world.  God’s vision is an upside-down version of what we have let our world become.

But this is not some isolated poem in the middle of Mary’s story.  These words are the Gospel. Let me say that again.  These words ARE the Gospel.  If you were to put the Gospel into its Cliff Notes version, I would think you could take these words, Matthew 22: 37-39, and Matthew 28:20b and have a pretty good idea of what Jesus was trying to say.  But there are those that will pull their “Gospel card” out of their pocket when it is convenient to prove their point.  There are those will draw it when they need to be comforted.  But, here, here we are asked to pull the Gospel card that will shake the world and send us to our knees.  Here, we are asked to pull the Gospel card so that the world will begin to see things differently.  It is revolutionary.  It would be hard to over-sentimentalize these words, hard to make them into something that they are not, hard to see that they are not talking about us.  I don’t think Jesus meant “oh, eventually” or “when you get around to it” or “yeah, “they” need to get on board”.  We are asked here to lay our riches and down and walk away from them.  We are asked to feed the poor and house the homeless.  We are asked to let go of power that we have gotten by human means that we hold onto so desperately for our own protection and our own edification.  Yes, we are asked to pull the Gospel card in our homes, in our lives, in our politics, in our nation, in our world.  Truth be told, these words have one meaning:  “Game on…”

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.  (Susan B. Anthony)

FOR TODAY:  Which card will you play?

Grace and Peace,