One Eighty- Weekly Reflections 12-9-15

 Texts for Sunday December 13
 3rd Sunday of Advent

 Zephaniah 3:14-20
 Isaiah 12:2-6
 Philippians 4:4-7
 Luke 3:7-18

 Vipers, and axes, and fire! Oh my!

Time to duck!  In Sunday's text from Luke, John the Baptist uses his best prophet-y voice to call us a brood of vipers. Here in Luke that that “brood” is the crowd (of which I always feel a member). [Matthew has the brood as the religious leaders and somehow that feels better (….oh, wait, I’m a religious leader…).  ]  Then John goes on about taking an ax to a non-producing tree to burn it. Yup. Time to duck.

But notice the very last verse of the text this week – verse 18:  So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Oh. The viper, ax, and fire are good news.  Sorry. Over-reacted.  

This section of verses is a continuation of last week’s text.  John is moving through the region of the Jordan River proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the salvation of all. Repentance is a 180° turn back to God.  It is self-examination and re-commitment. That can feel like fire  -- and maybe an ax. But it is turning back to God. It is starting over. It is new.  Good stuff!  And this newness produces good fruit.

So the crowd/brood (probably also a little unsettled by the whole viper/fire thing) start asking for specifics on how to produce these fruits.  To the general crowd, he says share your stuff with others.  His answer to the tax collectors is be honest in your work.  Then soldiers (soldiers?) ask and he says don’t bully people, lie, or complain about your work. 

That sounds a bit like an earlier prophet:  What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

He has the crowd with him now. They begin to wonder if he is the Messiah.  John’s answer is a big NO. John baptizes with water; the one to come will baptize with wind and flame (more fire). And John  exhorts again. And again the whole “winnowing fork, clearing the threshing floor, unquenchable fire” still sounds somewhat threatening. But, as one commentator pointed out, the primary aim is to save the wheat; burning chaff is secondary. Wind and flame.

Exhortations can remind us how much we need God. And they can show us how to live. I think this might be what Lutherans call “Law and Gospel”; the very same verse reveals the need for repentance and reveals the forgiveness that follows….and shows us how to live.  With repentance and forgiveness, judgment is good news.

What does repentance look like for you?

What do you think the answer would be to the question “What then should we do?” for today’s world?

Check out the G.I.F.T. post for this Sunday, December 13, for more ways to reflect on these verses.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please use the comment section below.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245