3 Advent – December 13, 2015
There was a recent segment on the Today show about what values we want to teach our kids. Honesty topped the charts (43%), followed by kindness (29%), a strong work ethic (11%) and a variety of others. What is interesting about this survey is that it lines up pretty closely with John the Baptist’s preaching in this Sunday’s passage from Luke.
“What should we do?” the crowds asked John after his exhortation. “What should we do?” asked the tax collectors. “What should we do?” asked the soldiers. Now, the tax collectors and the soldiers were both despised people in the Jewish culture; outcasts actually. Tax collectors took great advantage of people, collecting much more than was required by Caesar, and keeping the difference for themselves. Soldiers were Roman citizens with little regard for the Jewish people, and would often unfairly accuse individuals of a crime and then be bribed to recant the accusation. So John offers both groups an alternative. Don’t collect more tax than you ought to; don’t swindle people.
John basically tells them that they ought to be honest (“Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you”), be kind (“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise”) and to work hard (“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”)
These are simple changes in lifestyle; changes in attitude, really. Or perhaps it is that everything looks different in the light of the coming of Christ. Jesus’ coming, John implies, affects every dimension of our lives, including how we regard each other and our ethical obligations to one another and the world. The kingdom doesn’t show up only in grand actions or heroic deeds. The kingdom shows up in the simple acts of sharing what we have, being honest with each other, and working hard and resisting the urge to be bullies. When we do this, we are helping to usher in the kingdom that Jesus will soon announce.
We have opportunities all around us to be the ordinary saints John calls us to be. If you don’t think our everyday actions of being honest, kind, and hardworking don’t matter, ask yourself this: What would it look like if the political candidates running for president acted this way? What about our elected leaders? Or our law enforcement officers?
But let’s not stop there. Let’s get more personal: What would it look like if we went out from church looking for opportunities to be honest, kind, and hardworking? What if we determined to seek out such opportunities because we’ve heard that extraordinary acts of grace are within the reach of ordinary people. What if we believed – and acted on the belief – that being honest, kind, and hardworking in a culture that is impatient, immature, and fearful really makes a difference.
Now, I know that we live in a world where we are constantly afraid that the next terrorist crime or random act of violence will happen around our street corner. And because of this fear we change how we live and, at times, even risk forgetting who we are. And when we do that, the terrorists win. So what might happen if we pledged that in light of the dangerous world we live in we intended to redouble our efforts to be honest, kind, and hardworking, meeting the needs of those around us, reaching out to help those who struggle, and in all these ways witness to our confidence that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection make a difference?
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, an American poet, has this to say: “There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for”. (Clarissa Pinkola Estes American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.)
It is roughly 2000 years later and the question, “What should we do?” is still a question that needs to be asked. Will you stay safe in the harbor or
sail out into the world with your bright light shining? Christ is with you.