Preparing for Advent – Part 2

Sermon Text: Luke 3:7-17
Title: Changing Our Ways Because of the Birth of Jesus 

I have seen the desert, and to be honest, it is beautiful in its own way.  When I lived in Arizona for two summers the desert was only a few miles away and so often I found myself wandering the trails of the desert looking for rattle snakes.  I know, call me crazy, but it was fun.  What I found, to my surprise, was not a barren wasteland.

I grew up under the assumption, probably with most Canadians who have not seen the desert first hand, that the desert is a barren wasteland where the sun burns everything in its path; a hot, dry barren landscape where the soil is so dry there are only cracks.  In the desert we are blinded because the sun burns; like someone is holding a magnifying glass burning a piece of wood.  We hear desert and we think of a Clint Eastwood movie as he rides into the burning sun with vultures soaring overhead, as if they know those who enter the desert will die.

Every now and then when I am part of a devotional or part of a class a teacher will sometimes ask the question, “Where do we find God?  Where can we see God most clearly?”  Having heard this question a hundred times I think I have heard all the answers, most of which seem to be that we can see God in the alps, the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, the rolling plains of the Midwest or the cliff’s of the East coast.  I don’t think I have heard anyone say they have found God or seen God in the barren wilderness, the desert. 

God Is Found In The Wilderness
As we journey through scripture we often find that God is found in the wilderness, the desert.  Moses is wandering through the desert leading his sheep on the barren mountain when he finds God in a burning bush.  One commentator said that the burning bush is not an unusual site because often times it would be so hot bushes would instinctively catch on fire; what was so unusual was the bush did not burn.  It was in the desert that Moses finds God and is commissioned by God to lead his people out of
Egypt.

Israel also finds God in the desert.  How many times have we read in the OT that Israel wandered in the desert only to find God?  It was in the desert that God supplied his people with water and manna.  It was in the desert that God redeemed his people from armies bent on destroying them.  The barren landscape, the desert which many of us feel is lonely and desolate is actually a place of redemption and salvation. 

John The Baptist In The Desert
John the Baptist, the preacher who lives in the desert; dressed in camel hair, eating off the land, the locust and wild honey, is beginning to draw quite a crowd.  Is he drawing a crowd because he is wearing the new tailored three piece suit and is able to use words that can mesmerize the crowd?  Has John put out an advertising campaign with hundreds of flyers and purchased air time on the radio and television?  I have a feeling that if John were here today he would look so normal that we would walk past him and not even think to say hi.  

Yet the crowds are traveling out into the desert to listen to what he has to say. The crowds are lining the paths in the desert hoping to see and hear what John is saying.  It’s as if the Synagogue teachers have reminded the people that God is found in the desert and now that they hear a man speaking in the name of God about the coming Messiah, they instinctively travel out into the desert to find God.  There is this expectation that God will be found in the desert; that possibly the Messiah will be found in the desert.

We Live In Some Unusual Times
We live in some unusual times.  It’s unusual because we are seeing a shift being made; a shift from a Christian culture to a post-Christian culture.  Some would even argue that the shift has already been made and we are living in a post-Christian culture.  I think Christmas is a time that we can see evidence that we are living in a post-Christian culture. 

Historically Christmas was a time of remembering Christ.  One would often find manger scenes lining the front yards of homes and churches.  In the stores there would be found manger scenes with farm animals which instinctively we would all recall as the place of Jesus birth.  On the radios it was not uncommon to hear carols depicting Christ being born; songs such as Away in a Manger or The First Noel.  Schools would often have Christmas concerts where the story of the birth of Christ was told.  Now today, in our culture we are hard pressed to hear the song Away in a Manger and schools have quit producing Christmas concerts, but rather have now developed programs that are called “Holiday Songs.”  Even something as simple as a greeting card – take a look and see how many cards say, “Merry Christmas.”  I have been told that most cards these days say, “Happy Holidays.”  It seems as if Christ is being taken out of Christmas

At one point in time Christmas was a time of expectation; expecting Jesus to be born.  Now, however we have an expectation that a big red suited man will fall through a chimney and deliver gifts, forgetting that Christmas grew out of the story of the birth of Christ.  It seems that no longer do we expect Christ to come; rather the opposite is taking place.  We are taking Christ out of Christmas; but please give me the freedom to say, “I wonder if Christ was even in Christmas to begin with.

John Preaches
John is in the desert. The people have packed their lunches, carrying their jars of water and walking out into the desert, possibly with an expectation to find either the Messiah himself, or news that the Messiah is coming.  When the crowds arrive they find a man who begins to preach a message of repentance.  You brood of vipers,” cried John, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Do not begin to say to yourselves that we have Abraham as our forefather for I tell you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9). 

Because of the coming of Christ repentance is a must, a necessity.  Repentance, for John, is not simply asking God to forgive the sins that we have committed; it is not saying a prayer telling God some of the sins we have committed and asking him to forgive our ignorance.  Repentance for John is a transformation in how we live our lives.  Repentance involves social responsibility.  The social life of the people, the tax collectors, the Roman soldiers and even the common people: the shop keepers, the baker and the carpenter must be transformed because of the coming of Christ.  This is repentance for John: when people change how they live because of the coming Messiah.

The tax collectors come to John and they say, “What must we do?”  And John replies, “Collect no more than what you are suppose to do.”  Tax collectors were notorious for cheating the people and John says that with the coming of Christ they are to change their methods of collection.  The Roman soldiers come to John and say, “What must we do?”  And John replies, “Do not extort money by threats or false accusations and be satisfied with your wages.  They say that there was great corruption in the Roman army and what the army wanted they received because of threats and false accusations.  John says, “Quit it!  Change your ways because of the coming Messiah.  Even the common people, the bakers, the carpenters, the mechanics, the seamstress come to him and say, “What must we do?”  And John replies, “If you have two coats, give one away.  If you have extra food on the table, give it away.

The social life of the people, the tax collectors, the Roman soldiers and even the common people: the shop keepers, the baker and the carpenter must be transformed because of the coming of Christ.  This is repentance for John: when people change how they live because of the coming Messiah.

We often believe in the 21st century that the religious life does not have anything to do with social issues.  On the contrary, the religious life critiques, influences, rebukes and forms the social life of the culture in which it finds itself.  In the gospel of Luke we find John saying that the social life of tax collectors, Roman soldiers, and the common people must be transformed because of the coming of Christ.  In a Postmodern world we too must look at how the coming of Christ will influence and possibly change some of our social practices.  Repentance for John is not simply asking God to forgive sins; repentance is a turning of our ways and living differently.  Repentance is not a lip service asking God to forgive us; repentance is a turning away from the ways of living that are contrary to the way of God.  The church must begin to turn away from the ways that are contrary to the way of God, whether this be segregation, inappropriate use of monetary funds, a sense of individualism rather than community, and a host of other lifestyles that we intentionally or unintentionally live.

Was Christ Even In Christmas To Begin With?
I said a pretty frightening statement earlier: “I wonder if Christ was even in Christmas to begin with.”  I say this because when was the last time our culture, our society, even the church itself changed how we live because of Christmas? 

When was the last time our culture changed its view of materialism, money, greed, sex, taking care of the poor and the homeless?  When was the last time our culture ever changed its ways because of the Christmas season?  When was the last time our churches have changed because of Christmas?  When did we stop being an institution and instead became a movement because of the Christmas story?  When has the church ever change its views on taking care of the poor and the homeless, rather than spending thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a building that is used for the sole purpose of Bible Study three times a week?  When has the church ever changed its treatment of women, the environment, the outcast, even its neighbors because of Christmas?

Christmas is not just a time to give.  Christmas is a time to change how we live.  So maybe what we need to do is instead of buying an extra toy to place under our Christmas tree or to donate to some store or organization, maybe we should change how we live so that we continually give to organizations on a regular basis rather than just once a year.  Maybe we should change how we live so that we develop a different attitude toward those who are less fortunate.  Maybe we should change how we live so that no longer do we destroy the environment but we care for the environment, just as we are called to do. 

The people are walking the trails of the desert looking for John and wanting to hear what John has to say about the coming Messiah.  What they find is a man dressed in camel’s hair eating locust and wild honey telling them to change how they live because of the Christmas, the birth of Christ.  May we, as we prepare for the birth of Christ this holiday season change how we live so that Christ might continue to be seen through our lives.

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Published in: on December 11, 2006 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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