Clothe Yourselves With Love

Colossians 3:12-17

12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts–a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him. (CEB)

Clothe Yourselves With Love

I don’t know why it is, but sometimes getting a child to change their clothes is one of the most difficult things a parent can do. Granted it isn’t all the time, but there are moments when a parent telling a child to change clothes seems, at least in their minds, like an exercise in lunacy.

What do you mean put clean clothes on? These are clean. I just put them on yesterday morning. They’re just now getting good and warm. Wasn’t Mommy complaining about the laundry? Can’t you see I’m trying to help you guys out?

There must be something comfortable about wearing soiled garments that I’m missing as a parent. I remember one time I told my son to put clean underwear on. I even got the underwear out and laid it on his bed. So later, when he came out of his room, I asked him if he put the clean underwear on. And he nodded his head.

Later that evening, when I was helping him get ready for bed, he took his pants off to change into his pajamas. Low and behold, he was wearing two sets of underwear. He had put the clean underwear on over his old underwear. I mean, I had to laugh. Technically, he did exactly what I told him to do. He put clean underwear on. But it didn’t do him any good to leave the old stuff on beneath it.

This is kind of what Paul is talking about in Colossians 3. In the first several verses, he tells us to put aside the bad stuff: sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry), anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. He tells us not to lie, to take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature by conforming to the image of God.

Then, in verses 12 through 17, Paul talks about clothing ourselves in clean garments. Unlike my son, Paul knew we need to remove our dirty clothes before we put clean clothes on. The metaphor of clothing is kind of cool because, in part, this is something we must do. It’s an external thing. If we’re cold, we can put on a sweater. And yet, another part of it is something God does. When we put on a sweater, we get warm. It’s an internal thing. We don’t cause the warmth, but putting the sweater on sure helped.

But how do we go about changing our clothes? How do we suddenly put off these old stinky garments for clothing that’s fresh and clean? How do we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience?

In part, that’s the point of Christian spiritual disciplines. The regular practice of spiritual disciplines such as worship, studying the Scriptures, prayer, receiving the sacraments, serving the poor, fasting, visiting the sick and imprisoned, giving to others with generosity, they all open us to God in powerful ways. The practices begin to shape who we are.

I love visiting Saint Meinrad Archabbey. It’s one of those beautiful places where God’s presence just seems to hang in the air. The monks understand something about spiritual disciplines that the rest of us find difficult to perceive. They live out the liturgy of the hours, which is a set of specific times each day for worship, prayer, Scripture reading, and singing. But, instead of trying to understand the texts they read through argument and debate, they receive the Scripture into themselves so that it shapes who they are. The way they pray is shaped by Scripture. The way they think is shaped by Scripture. The way they speak and interact is shaped by Scripture.

Their lives are so inundated by the spiritual disciplines that the words and ideas within the Scriptures become their words and ideas. They are shaped on the inside by what they practice on the outside. Only it isn’t just monks. This is how we’re shaped, too, whether we realize it or not.

What are the practices that shape us? In essence, they’re the clothes we choose to put on. We are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. So what are we doing? Are we clothing ourselves with compassion?

As a sort of test for that in today’s fear-filled circumstances, what do we think of when we hear a phrase like Syrian Refugees? Does our reaction include thoughts of coldness, suspicion, and cruelty, or compassion, acceptance, and kindness?

What do we do when we disagree with each other? And I mean serious, bare-knuckled disagreement. Do we act with humility, meekness, and patience? Do we bear with one another and forgive each other? Or do we hold on to grudges and let open sores fester until they eat at our souls?

Paul demands that we forgive each other. As the Lord has forgiven us, we must forgive.

We pray the Lord’s Prayer in worship every Sunday. Its words were given to the disciples when they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. It’s a beautiful, yet dangerous, prayer. Sometimes we don’t realize how dangerous the prayer is simply because of the way we pray it. Our wording is archaic, and the cadence we use tends to separate parts that ought to go together. There’s one part in particular that we chop up into two pieces, but it’s really one. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

You see, there’s an expectation of newness, both within the Christian community and within individual Christians. Jesus teaches us to pray by saying forgive us as we forgive. Essentially, we’re asking God to forgive us in the same measure that we forgive others. How can we expect forgiveness if we fail to forgive?

Forgiveness is a much more significant thing than we want it to be. We want forgiveness to be casual. We want it to be easy. Sometimes we even want to be able to say we’ve forgiven someone while still holding on to our grudges. I mean, if we can tolerate to be in the same room with the person while still disliking them intently, we want that to be good enough. But forgiveness is really about reconciliation. If forgiveness doesn’t lead to reconciliation—most especially between fellow Christian people—then we may not have truly forgiven.

The test for true forgiveness is love. That’s the next thing Paul mentions. We’re told to clothe ourselves “with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14, NRSV). If someone in the church causes us offense, or if we have a complaint against them, can we say that we honestly love that person? If we’ve forgiven them, then we’ll be reconciled. If we’re reconciled, then there’s nothing stopping us from loving. Our relationships should be that of brothers, sisters, and friends. Our relationships should be bound together in perfect harmony.

Paul tells us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. You see, Christ calls us to peace. The Prince of Peace doesn’t bear that name for no reason. We’re called to peace in Christ’s name. We’re called to have peace with one another, and we’re called to have peace with the world.

When we forgive one another, when we’re reconciled to each other, when we love our neighbors and live peaceably, it’s then that we’re able to offer the truest of worship to God. It’s through worship that the word of Christ dwells in us richly. Our communal worship allows us to teach and admonish one another with wisdom in such a way that we’re not beating each other over the head. We do it through love and care. It’s through worship that we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

It’s through worship that we are able to live lives that are incarnational. That’s another thing we can learn from monastics. Everything we do, everything we say—even the stuff in the mundane daily routines of our lives—everything can be an act of worship. When our work and our speech is done in the name of the Lord Jesus, when what we do and say become acts of thanksgiving to God, it’s then that we’ve truly learned to worship the God of our salvation.

Jesus was born among us to be Emmanuel, God-With-Us. He came to redeem us, and his work enabled us to be reconciled to God. A true celebration of Christmas means that each of us allow Christ into our hearts in such a way that Christ’s love, patience, kindness, compassion, humility, meekness, forgiveness, harmony, and peace becomes ours.

It requires repentance. It will require a metaphorical change of clothes. We’ll have to lay aside our dirty garments and put on what’s clean. When we practice these things as individuals, as a community of faith, and as we reach out in this way to the world around us, they become who we are. The hope of Christmas is that these things become the very air we breathe because these things are of Christ our Lord.

May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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Mary’s Song

Luke 1:39-55

39 Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. 40 She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. 43 Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

46 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. 50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” (CEB)

Mary’s Song

If you think about it, Advent always seems a little backwards. When you look at the Gospel readings for the first three Sundays, it just looks weird. Especially if you’re one of those people who think Advent is all about getting ready for Christmas. (Hint: It’s not, and it never has been!).

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent, Luke 21:25-36, has an adult Jesus proclaiming the end of days and the great judgment. The text for the second Sunday, Luke 3:1-6, has an adult John the Baptizer preaching about the need for repentance due to the coming of God’s kingdom. The text for the third Sunday of Advent, Luke 3:7-18, has an adult John the Baptizer preaching about God’s judgment and—again—the dire need for true repentance.

Then, quite strangely, the story backs up. Jesus and John the Baptizer both appear in the text, but they’re unnamed. Instead, the ones identified in the story are their mothers who carry them in their wombs. It seems like such an odd turn-around, but it’s actually a powerful way to tell a story.

It’s like the beginning of the movie Tangled where the narrator tells us, “This is the story of how I died.” Then he backs up to tell the story. On the first three Sundays of Advent Jesus and John both proclaim the coming of God’s rule and reign, but on the fourth Sunday, it’s as if the church decided to say, And this is how it began.

The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is really a beautiful story of two women who each represent something old and yet something new. Elizabeth is an echo of Sarah, an old woman who was barren. She was a descendant of Aaron and was married to a priest. Her husband is promised a son through Elizabeth who will come in “the spirit and power of Elijah” to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Lord. It’s something we recognize because God has done it before: God bringing new life through an elderly barren woman is sort of an old trick. But it’s still a pretty amazing one.

Mary is, in some ways, an echo of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Even Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is similar to Hannah’s song (c.f. 1 Samuel 2:1-10). And yet, Mary is very different. She’s a young girl. She’s not even married. The angel, Gabriel, promised her she would give birth to the Son of the Most High, a king to rule over Jacob’s house forever in an unending kingdom. It’s rather potent news for an unwed girl. This is a new thing that God is doing. It was largely unexpected even though it was foretold. “The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14b, CEB).

When the angel told Mary she would become pregnant in this way, Gabriel reminds her that her relative, Elizabeth, has conceived a son in her old age. As soon as the angel leaves her, Mary sets out to visit Elizabeth. Some scholars think it was Mary’s desire for confirmation that led her to trek out into the Judean countryside to find Elizabeth. In fact, John Calvin wrote about the appropriateness of Mary seeking such confirmation. It wasn’t a lack of faith on Mary’s part that led her to Elizabeth. Instead, it was a following through.

Imagine, if you would, the shepherds in their fields who were suddenly surrounded by the heavenly forces singing God’s glory. What if, when they were told by the angel about the birth of their savior, they shrugged and said, Yeah, I believe that, and stayed in their fields. If they had done that, we would all be in awe of their faithfulness for taking the angel’s word at face value as well as their stupidity for not going to see this miraculous thing that an angel told them about. No! The angel told them, and they said, Let’s go check this out right now!

It’s appropriate that Mary got up and went to see this miraculous thing the angel laid before her.

But there are other scholars, such as Venerable Bede, who suggest that Mary went to Elizabeth in order to give Elizabeth confirmation about what God was doing. Mary thought Elizabeth needed to know. She also went to care for Elizabeth during the last stages of her pregnancy. The text indicates that Mary stayed for the first three months of her own pregnancy, until just before Elizabeth gave birth to John.

When Mary walked into Elizabeth’s house, it’s Elizabeth’s child who recognized the significance of this visitor. John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She became a prophet, speaking the words her in-utero son couldn’t yet proclaim. The Holy Spirit caused Elizabeth to recognize everything. Elizabeth makes the connection between Mary’s blessing and Mary’s believing. “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry… Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.” (Lk. 1:42b, 45, CEB).

Elizabeth is the elder, yet she’s genuinely humbled and surprised that her young relative, Mary, would deign to visit her. “Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:43). It’s a little bit lost on us twenty-first century types who are so used to calling Jesus our Lord, but it’s significant that Elizabeth addresses Mary as the mother of her Lord—the title for God—under the prophetic influence of the Holy Spirit. Through Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit of God tells us without a doubt that Mary is the Mother of God—the Θεοτόκος, the God-bearer—as the church calls her.

It strikes me as ridiculous that Protestants sometimes accuse Catholics of honoring Mary too much. Especially when we’ve essentially thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. We fail to honor Mary enough, almost to the point of dismissing her completely. If anyone thinks Jesus is going to be friendly with someone who disrespects his Mama, we’ve probably got a surprise coming. Jesus did his first miracle, not because he thought it was a good idea or because it was his time, but because his mother asked him to do it. Think about that.

The holy Scripture labels Mary as the Mother of God, the woman blessed above all other women on the earth, the first believer in Christ, and all of it is confirmed by Elizabeth’s prophetic utterance as she’s filled with the Holy Spirit.

Part of the beauty of this story is that Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth gives both of these women something they needed. They find in each other understanding, community, and connection. Mary, especially, would have experienced some stigma and ostracism. But in Elizabeth, she finds acceptance and companionship. It’s a representation of what the church ought to be.

Elizabeth had already faced such marginalization. She was an old woman who had been barren. Barrenness was, in the eyes of other people, shameful, and a mark of God’s disfavor. When Elizabeth became pregnant, we’re told she kept to herself for five months (c.f. Lk. 1:24). She said to herself, “This is the Lord’s doing He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people. (Lk. 1:25, CEB). She didn’t want to be the talk of the town. These two marginalized, pregnant women carry within them the future of God’s plan, and they are the first to proclaim the Christ who would come to save us.

Another part of this story’s beauty is in its absolute absurdity. God constantly surprises us by doing new things, but this one takes the cake. That God should come to us through a humble, unwed peasant girl of no significance—from a human point of view—is almost laughable.

That Mary, this youthful nonentity, should be revealed as God’s favored one, the one girl on the planet whom God chose to be the mother of God’s Son, shows us how pathetic our human expectations are.

That this girl, an unmarried pregnant teenager, should proclaim some of the most significant words ever spoken and written shines a light on the folly of our vaunted human wisdom.

Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is the heart of Christian hope, belief, and theology. Mary proclaims the upside-down, inside-out reality of God’s promises as already accomplished facts. Throughout her song, Mary says God has done this and God has done that.

God has shown mercy to everyone. God has shown strength with his arm. God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones. God has lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things. God has sent the rich away empty-handed. God has come to the aid of his servant, Israel. God has remembered his promise of mercy.

Mary reminds us that we can have confidence in God’s promises to us. What God says he will do is as factual as if it had already happened. God’s kingdom is coming. Of that, we can be assured. To us, Mary’s words point to a world that appears up-side-down. But Mary sees with the eyes of a faith and tradition she has known. She invites us to see her God-given vision of a world finally turned right-side-up by God’s great reversal.

Mary’s Song is a call to us, a reminder to be faithful to the plan God has for the world. It actually goes along rather well with the apocalyptic words of her son from the first Sunday of Advent. The workings of God leave the nations confused, fearful, and shaken. But it’s inescapable. God’s kingdom is coming. In some sense, God’s plan began to take shape ages ago. But in another sense, the beginning of the fullness of God’s plan began with two pregnant women who carried within them the weight of God’s promise and fulfillment. One would prepare the way. The other would be the Way, the Truth, and the Light.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

What Should We Do?

Luke 3:7-18

7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.” 10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.” 14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?” He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.” 15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” 18 With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people. (CEB)

What Should We Do?

What should we do? It’s often a question of urgency. This past week, Joy and I were asking that question a lot. We had planned to drive to Fort Wayne to visit her family, but I was lucky enough to come down with a sinus infection just before we were supposed to leave. Joy and I were asking the question, What should we do? Should I suck it up and go on the trip, or stay at home and try to recover? We went back and forth over it. Finally, I decided that I couldn’t let Joy go on a trip without some measure of parental support. I spent the entire trip in bed at the Bed & Breakfast, but at least I was a parental body whose presence made it possible for Joy to do things like unload the van.

On Monday, Joy drove the kids out to her brother’s house in Ohio, and the van started shaking down on the way. The check engine light started flashing. When it comes on, it means you need to get something check out. When it starts flashing, it means stop driving immediately before your vehicle self-destructs. She called me and asked What should we do? She called Triple A and got the thing towed to the Kia dealership in Fort Wayne. She figured out how to get herself and the kids back to the Fort without the van, and then how to get her brother’s car back to Ohio without having to drive it herself. It was an adventure.

Then, we had to figure out what to do with ourselves. We hadn’t planned on staying another night at the Bed & Breakfast, but we weren’t sure if we would need a place to stay the next night. The Kia service people told us they probably couldn’t even diagnose the problem until Tuesday afternoon. And we wondered, What should we do? Thankfully, the repairs went faster than expected. After $700 in expenses, we were on the road by about mid-afternoon.

This text from Luke is somewhat unique. Last Sunday we got to hear a little about who John the Baptizer was, and we learned about his role in preparing people for God’s arrival by calling us to repentance. This week, we get to hear John’s message. It’s fairly short, only twelve verses. And not all of those verses are John’s words. And some of you are probably thinking, Well, if John the Baptizer’s sermons were that short, why can’t yours be?

John’s message is a marriage of eschatology and ethics. It combines the coming kingdom of God with the practicality of how we are expected to live in the light of its anticipated arrival.

He starts his message in a strange way. He addresses the crowds who are coming to him for baptism by saying, “You brood of vipers!” (Lk. 3:7b, NRSV). Now, I want to look at this in parts, because there’s a common misunderstanding about this. John doesn’t actually call the people snakes. He calls them a brood of snakes. In other words, they are the children of vipers. They are the progeny of snakes. They’re the fruit the vipers have borne. They aren’t the vipers themselves. What John means is they have learned from the leaders among their people, and those are people who actively resist and plot against John’s message, and ultimately the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Then John asks, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” It probably was not the vipers, i.e. the religious leaders of the people. The irony is, it was probably John who warned them to flee from the wrath to come. They heard about this wilderness preacher, and they’ve come to him because they felt drawn to his message. They wanted to hear what this desert prophet had to say.

John continues, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, 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 therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The people had put stock into the fact that they were children of Abraham. But John said that didn’t matter. He basically repeated the message of every prophet who had come before him. It doesn’t matter who you are. What matters is how you live. God expects people to behave, not merely believe. And repentance is necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God.

It’s not enough to be a child of Abraham, nor a good American citizen. We don’t get to hide behind our traditions, or positions of privilege, nor our national identity, nor even our church identity. We will be known by our fruit. What we truly value in life will be known by what we do and how we live. It’s on these matters that we will be judged. This is what makes repentance necessary.

Repentance means to turn around. It’s an about-face, a U-turn, a reorientation of one’s life toward God. But, for John, repentance has less to do with how passionately, enthusiastically, intensely, or often one prays, or goes through other religious motions. Repentance has everything to do with how we handle our wealth and possessions as faithful stewards of God, how we give to others generously, how we’re uncompromisingly honest, fair, and just in our work.

This is arguably the most difficult part of John’s message for people to accept. When the people started asking John those questions, What should we do?, the answers he gave seem ridiculously simple. So much so that we can be left to wonder, That’s it? That’s all there is? But as any child learning the difference between right and wrong can tell us—or show us—knowing the right thing is only the first step. It is doing the right thing that often proves to be the more difficult of the two.

What should we do? The crowds asked. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must to likewise.” I can tell you, I have more than two coats. I have more clothing than I’m able to wear in a week. And there’s plenty of food on my table every day. There are also a lot of people who don’t have what I have. The way we provide for others is by giving generously of what we have. One means of generosity is tithing. Another is directly giving of our selves by serving those in need in person. What if, in addition to funding ministry, we got personally invested in ministry?

What should we do? The tax collectors and soldiers asked. John’s response is that we should be honest and satisfied with what we have. We should not lie or lay false accusations against others. Dishonesty, cheating, fraudulence, corruption, these things are not acceptable to God. And God will judge us for them. That’s why it’s necessary to repent, to turn around, to turn away from these things and do what’s right.

Life should be lived as ethically as we can live it. It isn’t always easy. Just like the tax collectors, we’re dependent upon unjust systems and structures. There are ways around them, but we participate in them anyway because we don’t like the cost. Coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity in the world. It’s a horribly unjust system, where hard-working farmers are kept poor so we can enjoy cheap coffee. Yet, we purchase coffee brands like Folgers and Maxwell anyway, because certified Fair Trade brands like Equal Exchange are typically more expensive.

So maybe, in addition to not cheating people in the work we do, John would demand that we look for ways around the unjust systems upon which much of Western society is built. Maybe we should be concerned about where the stuff we’re buying is coming from, and whether it was made and traded fairly.

John warns us that the ax is lying at the root of the tree. But if you think about it, that’s not really a bad thing. In fact, this whole message is technically Good News. A little pruning is good for us. We could all benefit from allowing the Son of God to chop a little greed, pride, hypocrisy, decadence, and the like out of our lives with a divine ax and have it all tossed into the fire of God’s judgment. The freedom repentance can bring us is a hopeful thing.

John’s message is ripe with urgency. This isn’t something he suggests we do when we feel like it. The time for repentance is now. The need for repentance is now.

John’s message isn’t about ethics without eschatology with the simple goal of making the world a better place. And it isn’t eschatology without ethics, like the fundamentalists who only want a safe-exit strategy from the world so they don’t get “left behind.”

John’s message is eschatological, but it’s also rooted in this world. We believe Christ is coming, but God expects us to act like Christ when it comes to how we live. We’re called to bear fruit as part of our repentance. When we repent, God restores us.

John called his hearers to repentance in order to prepare the way for the Advent of God’s Son. His message of repentance is the same for us. The Saints of the Church have long spoken of the two Advents of Christ. The first was when Jesus came as a human being and bore our sins upon the cross. The second is when Jesus comes again to burn away the chaff with unquenchable fire and gather the wheat into his granary.

John’s message reminds us what repentance—this reorientation toward God—is really about. Repentance requires living in such a way that our core values include honesty and concern for those in need. We all have need of true repentance. John reminds us that our need is urgent. I could sum repentance up with the first two Rules of Methodism: Do no harm, and Do good. It’s so simple.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!