Advent 3

Ready Or Not based on Luke 3:7-18

Everyday I am tempted to hide under my ordination vows and believe that my salvation is not up for debate. I am tempted to believe that because I heard a call, studied God’s word and, work for a church that I am good… that I have nothing to worry about. I am one of the chosen, right? I am an heir to the covenant and I should be able to rest easy. To this John the Baptist, would say “Whitney, you’re full of it! Repent! Don’t just say words start living it out.” You see if I was really repentant you would know, it would be evident in the way I live in the world. But my heart is cold, my soul is darkened. This week I messed up again, I used a word that devalued God’s creation and I knew better but, did it anyway.  This week, I know I bought more than I needed: more food, more clothing, more some thing. Even though I believe that I am called to “live simply so that others may simply live”, I can’t stop wanting, wanting what I know I don’t need, wanting more of what I already have. I can’t stop hoarding, I’m too sentimental, too spoiled to give some of the abundance away. I am greedy and materialistic. I am petty and unkind and I hide. I hideunder these things that I want to believe and I want you to believe make me “okay”. I can check off boxes that show the world I am good but the truth is my judgment is coming. I don’t know if I will make it. I don’t know if I will make the cut.  I can feel the ax getting frighteningly near me because I don’t know if I’m bearinggood fruit. John is talking to me, I am partof that brood of snakes.  I am getting and not giving. My desire for convenience is exploiting my neighbor. I don’t want to think about, it I just want to stay a cog in the machine that says “That’s just how it is”. I am complicit in wanting peace but doing nothing to achieve it. So what should I do? With my ears perked and ready to hear the gospel of the prophet, my soul longing for the coming of the Christ child. What should I do?

 I can stay here: convicted and confused: thinking that because I attend worship or have a Reverend prefix, or because my grandmother was a faithful person that I will be spared from God’s wrath. The truth is God doesn’t need me. My very existence is a grace. God doesn’t need me to pretend that my title, my family name, or my religious ceremonies and rituals mean that I am good. “The God who created humanity from dust can raise up children of Abraham from these stones” says John the Baptist. I should be scared because John the Baptist is speaking to people who want to believe, who want to turn back and live as covenant people. Like the crowd that John the Baptist spoke to, I must reconcile with the fact that I can’t rest on my “laurels”. Neither can you, you can’t cower behind how many Sundays you show up to 712 Chestnut Street or march behind the flag of “American superiority”, or class privilege. You and I we have to do something. For the Messiah is coming and he will judge us all whether we are ready or not.

It’s been a week for me and the gospel. Up until this week,  I always thought I liked John the Baptist.  Actually, I more than liked him he was my dude. If I had to answer Chris Rock’s question:  Who is in my top 5( this time bible characters and not rappers)? John the Baptist is up there. He isa prophet who marched to the beat of his own drum, who took one for the team( he was a martyr) getting beheaded by Herod. John the Baptist is the author of my daily prayer. Our prayer is that we may decrease and Jesus may increase. John the Baptist who I look up to, always pointed to Jesus Christ. So this week has been hard for me, I thought I had this understanding of who John the Baptist was- the wild cousin, eating locusts, preparing the way. However, this week I’ve had to engage with the actual words of John the Baptist and when I take his word seriously, which means I take the gospel of the Lord seriously, I am scared. I am scared because he is calling me out. Calling me to live a life where what I say and what I do are one in the same. I have to be sincere. I have to be a person of integrity. If not, I haven’t actually repented and I am just one more snake preying on the unsuspecting.  John the Baptist is speaking truth even as he makes way for The Truth. As Flip Wilson says, “The truth will set you free” but that freedom doesn’t come without struggle. This morning, this morning when we have just 12 more days until Christmas, I must confess. I must leave it all at the altar of the lord, and in front of you all, the folks who for whatever reason God has called me to lead. I’m not living right. I can’t stop wanting. I can’t stop accumulating. I can’t stop hiding behind all of these things: this robe and this stole, this job, this name “Christian”, my political affiliation, my age, whatever label it is that I think will secure my salvation. There is always something I can default to as an excuse so that I don’t have to repent, and if I don’t have to repent, if I believe I am safe, then I don’t have to change. You see what John the Baptist is telling me is that if I want to get on board with the One who is coming, I have to repent which means I have to change. Ready or Not?

 Ready or Not, Here He Comes. Jesus comes with a baptism and a gospel different than John’s but, the fact that I never want to admit is that… this Jesus, this Christ-child we eagerly anticipate this advent season is God Emmanuel and God our Judge. So we must take heed to the words of John the Baptist, and prepare, repent and turn to God. We must change. Jesus is coming, ready or not. 

Sisters and Brothers, to get ready for a relationship you have to not just be willing to change, you have to change or you will miss out. John the Baptist knows this but there is a modern day John who knows this as well. On his debut album, John Legend and Snoop Dogg collaborate on a song about repentance. It is a song entitled, “I Can Change” . The premise is that when John Legend finds the right person, the right woman he can change his entire life, because his need for that relationship takes priority. Snoop Dogg opens up the song and says when you have a woman like that, you start living right. Snoop even invokes Sam Cooke and tells this other John, John Legend that “A change gone come.” The relationship that John Legend so desperately wants is forcing him to repent, to live a life that says “I can, I am and I’ve been changed.”  He sings that he’s gonna stop getting high, get a job, stop gallivanting with otherwomen. In one of the last verses of the song, John Legend says “ Girl I'm gonna repent from my sinnin’/ If that's what you want me to do? I'll get right if you want it Go to church Get baptized if you want it Girl you opened my eyes and I'm gonna Be much better for you”.  Now I’m pretty sure that even in 2004 baptism references didn’t sell records or get you Grammy’s but there is something about repentance, about changing, about doing differently that conjures up baptism. This is the baptism that John’s followers clamor for, a baptism of repentance and forgiveness. A baptism that will transform those who like me might have a cold heart and a darkened soul but who are hungry for the Messiah.  Like the girl in John Legend’s song, John the Baptist is preparing us for something even better, something that we’ve never known, a relationship with the Messiah. So Repent! Turn around! Change! Live Right! Jesus iscoming ready or not. 

What should we do? Three groups of people ask John this question: What Should we do? The crowd ask what should we do.  The answers are practical: give and share. The tax collectors ask what should we do, the answer is stop taking more than required. The soldiers ask what should we do, stop using people. Be content. Check your greed and check your privilege at the door. The Gospel that John proclaims, the one that makes way for Jesus is concerned with justice and mercy. So give and share. Don’t take too much. Be content. It is just that simple, and just that complicated. It is because the gospel is just that simple and just that complicated, that I am dependent on the Messiah, the anointed one who is coming both in the stench of the stable as a child and also to judge the world. I am dependent on Jesus, so that I can change. I am dependent on Jesus because without him ,I am greedy and unkind, and I make bad decisions. I treat people wrong, I taketoo much and I hide under the banner of church or family or country. So this morning, ready or not it is time to change!  Don’t wait till tomorrow, the ax is at the root, even the heirs of Abraham( the one whom God made a covenant with) are not safe. Faith in the Messiah, is not just about belief it is about behavior It is about the other: it is about pulling back from the table and notgetting more when someone has nothing. It is about not bamboozling your fellow citizen, and extorting the day laborer, the poor, the already down-trodden. Those behaviors must change because there is one greater coming and the one who is baptizing now is not even worthy to tie his sandals. Ready or not Jesus is coming. 

There are twelve days left. Let us ask the questions of the crowd… what should we do? Let us hear the answers of John the Baptist. Give and Share. Give your money, give your time, give your food, give a toy, give a coat. From last minute mailings from non-profits, to angel trees, and bell ringers, every where you look there is a place to give. Give. It is part of the preparation, giving is about more than tax right-offs, it is about the gospel. Share…if you have enough for yourself, don’t consume more or hoard the excess, share it with others. Don’t take a bigger slice of the unjust pie. Take only what is yours. Don’t exploit.  Don’t manipulate. Repent. Repent not by empty words but by empathetic actions. Repent, prove that the gospel matters. Come away from all the many things we hide behind.  The last verse of the passage, reads “John the Baptist used many such warnings as he announced the Good news to the people.” Friends, let this passage be our warning, just like the there words “Ready or Not” warn a bunch of kids who play tag. So too John warns us, Ready or not, the Messiah is coming soon.