Summary: John the Baptist told his listeners to repent / change from "getters" to "givers." A timely message for us.
“What did you get for Christmas?” That may be the most-asked question during the days immediately following Christmas –“what did you get?” Little children especially like to talk about what they got – “I got this, and I got that.” I remember when I was in grade school – at recess time – we would crowd around some of our classmates as they showed us what they got for Christmas. We would even bring our Christmas gifts to school for show-and-tell – that way, everyone could see what we got.
This isn’t just a “kid-thing.” Adults like to talk about what they “got” for Christmas too. We cannot help but be excited when we get things. We love to get things. We might try to act calm and cool and collected on the outside as we open our gifts, but deep down, many of us are doing somersaults in our heads, because we just love getting things for Christmas.
A question that is rarely asked after Christmas is over is this – “what did you give for Christmas? I don’t want to know what you got – I want to know - what did you give?” Have you ever asked someone that question? What did you give for Christmas? I bet if you did that, you would catch someone completely off guard. Try it this year and see what happens. By nature, we’d rather talk about what we got – that’s more about me, what I have – as human beings we are more focused on getting things than we are on giving things.
In the desert around the Jordan River, there lived a man who wanted people to change their attitudes toward their life and their possessions. John the Baptist was that man, teaching the people to repent. Remember, to repent means to turn around, to change direction in your life. John was preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah. The Bible describes how crowds of people would come out to see him – he was such an unusual sight – a man living out in the desert, dressed in a robe made out of camel’s hair, eating grasshoppers and wild honey. And his message was so different from what the people were used to hearing – he was telling the people to change, to repent.
As the crowds came out to see John, God revealed something to John about these people. Many of them really weren’t all that sincere. They were materialistic people – their god was money, possessions. Many of them weren’t interested in changing their lives and preparing for the Messiah. John was a tourist attraction to them, and that’s about it. That’s why, in verse 7, John calls them a “brood of vipers.” In verse 8, John told them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Don’t just stand there, John told them. If you really are sincere, if you really are repenting in your life, then change, do something that people can see. Time was running out, John told themeople. In verse 9 he said, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Jesus called John the greatest of all the prophets. And his words speak to us today. In many ways, we are like those people who came out to see John. We struggle with materialism too – don’t we? The Christmas season can really bring it out of us, more so than the other seasons of the year. Christmas is that time of the year when we focus on “getting things” – “What did you get? Look at what I got!” Yes, we know that the Bible says that we should change – be more spiritual – but as Americans, we like to focus on material things. Today, John the Baptist calls out to you, and asks you hard questions. For example, if you know what is right – why do you keep on doing what is wrong? If you know that it is wrong to be materialistic, why do you continue in your materialism? Why do you nod your head on Sunday morning as we talk about these things and then go back to your old ways during the week?