You brood of vipers!” Imagine starting Sunday services with that call to worship! It would certainly make you sit up and quickly account for the week’s indiscretions! “What then should we do?” was the uneasy response from the people of John’s day. His answer was surprisingly simple, anticlimactic even. “Be decent, look out for others and do your job!” There you go. Nuff said.
As political news continues about increasing authoritarianism and environmental degradation, I too want to scream into the chambers of power: “Be decent, look out for others and do your job!” It is interesting how this message was perceived to be good news by the people who visited John in the wilderness, but for the powerful it was anything but. Remember, John was ultimately executed by the authorities of the day for his outspoken message. Today, like then, those that dare to proclaim such good news take on a great risk. This year, TIME magazine is honouring journalists because of the personal sacrifices they make for sharing messages like the one John proclaimed.
It is strange, but as I draw quieter in my prayer I am finding I am becoming louder and bolder in my speech. The fear of upsetting people and political powers is being replaced with an intolerable unease.
How is John’s message good news to you? How is it bad news? How is it ultimately good news for everyone? Who or what empowers your prophetic voice?
LUKE 3:7-18 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 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.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
ZEPHANIAH 3:14-20 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgements against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
Zephaniah was a prophet who likely lived around 600 years before Jesus’ birth and spoke to the people about the implications of disconnecting from God. This, the final passage from his very short writings, ends on an optimistic note of hope and restoration.
“God will renew you in his love.” Love is the only power that can overcome our differences and the forces of hate and fear. Let us find a quiet moment to allow God to envelop us in love. It is when we experience God’s love first-hand that we have something significant to share with others.
CANTICLE 3, BAS (ISAIAH 12:2-6) REFRAIN Ring out your joy, for the Holy One of Israel is in your midst. Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defence, and he will be my Saviour. Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation. And on that day you shall say, Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name; make his deeds known among the peoples; see that they remember that his name is exalted. Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world. Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
A song of joyful rejoicing! Reflect on the day that lies ahead: Where do we anticipate feeling joyful? Where do we anticipate feeling burdened and at odds with this song of joy? Dear Lord, remind me to “draw water” from you, the “spring of salvation.” Bless and renew the day ahead of me, I pray.
PHILIPPIANS 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is a short passage from a letter of Paul to a Christian community in Philippi, a city in eastern Greece. He likely wrote it 20-25 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection after visiting Greece on one of his missionary journeys. It is a tender letter to a community he obviously loved very much.
Last week, I was at a meeting where we were listing our various spiritual practices. A wise and reflective member of the group said that her spiritual practice was to stay hopeful and not get overwhelmed by the political news of hate, greed and decline. Simple, but very difficult, I think. We need enough concern to stay engaged and move beyond the inertia of apathy. However, too much worry, and we are quickly overcome with fear and anxiety.
“Do not worry … for God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” A spirit of hope is an act of faith which requires wilful turning from negativity and despair. In this way, hope is a spiritual practice.
This day, “Rejoice in the Lord!”