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Lectionary Living

It's not complicated

Today’s story involves a prophet of the Lord – a famous one – John the Baptist. Now John the Baptist was clear about a lot of things. That he was not worthy to untie a strap of the sandal of our Lord, for one thing. For another, that many of the people coming to see him needed to begin by repenting. Somehow he got them to do just that. Calling them a brood of vipers seems to have worked! And adding on the bit about God being able to make more children, possibly from the surrounding rocks, also seems to have put things into perspective for the crowd. And they began asking, what should we do?
Here again, John was quite straightforward. He told tax collectors to be fair. He told soldiers to refrain from abusing their power, and to stop complaining. He told everyone to share what they had. The common theme was to be different, instead of automatically doing what everyone else was doing.
It is easy for us to see that this was good advice to these people. What is harder is to imagine ourselves in the same place. If we met John the Baptist – let’s say he walked into our church this Sunday during the service – what would he say to us? How would he capture our attention, first, so that we might begin asking, what should we do?
Let’s say that he did that, that we have somehow been appropriately humbled and ready to hear the word of the Lord. What would it be? Not, mind you, what would he tell our neighbor, who obviously has overspent this holiday season and could give away two dozen jackets and still have enough for a different one each day of the month. But what would he tell us? What straightforward directive would it be?
I suspect that in our heart of hearts, each of us knows. But the problem is that these days, too little time is spent thinking about our own principles to know when and how we have fallen away. How our lives offend the Lord of heaven, and the very simple but substantive directive that we would be given, eludes us. But time spent thinking and praying about this scripture passage will be rewarded: a directive will come. It may be only a starting point; and it may be difficult. Our faith teaches us that along with the directive will come the ability to grasp it like a rope thrown to one drowning at sea, to hold on, to move to a new way of being. For this we have been set free, for this is exactly what Jesus Christ came to accomplish, and is already accomplishing in things seen and things unseen. Advent offers the chance to begin again, knowing God is with us.
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