Summary: John the Baptist teaches us to prepare for Christ’s coming by making changes in our lives, but changes based on the unchangeable Word of our consistent God.
When I am home, chances are the television is going to be tuned to one particular station. Unless Ali is in the mood to watch the Disney Channel, I will have another station on in the background in the morning as I am preparing to go over to the church, or it will be on during the noon hour as lunch is being ready, and this channel will most likely be on in the evening as I wind down for the night. That station is the Fox News Channel, which I have learned to fall in love with. I suppose what I really enjoy about it is summed up in their slogan, “Fair & Balanced Journalism.” In other words, it isn’t far left in their coverage like most network news, and it isn’t far right-wing like the Rush Limbaugh radio show, but the Fox News Channel strives to be right in the middle. They try to tell you both sides of the issue. That’s why they call themselves “Fair & Balanced.” No show sums up that attitude better than a program that comes on at 9:00 p.m. every weekday evening, Hannity and Colmes. Shaun Hannity is a conservative, Alan Colmes is a liberal, and though they often disagree, they find a way to co-exist on the same hour-long show night after night.
In a way, our Christian lives ought to imitate the Fox News Channel. As we study the words of St. John the Baptist, preparing us for the birth of Christ, we are ready for that coming when we have a fair and balanced faith. Be fair and balanced by 1. Being Liberal in Your Living and 2. Being Conservative in Your Confidence.
Some of you have probably heard the joke, “how many Wisconsin Synod Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” And the answer: 11! One to actually change the light bulb, and the other ten to stand around and talk about how much better the old one was before the change. And isn’t there some truth to that? Our “new” hymnal has been out for 10 years already, but didn’t it take us a while to get used to it? And sometimes you still hear voices that say we should go back to the old one. That’s just one example of how we can be “conservative” in our thinking. I’m sure we could all think of others. Being conservative isn’t necessarily bad. Conservative means something like, “being resistant to change,” or to put it positively, “keeping things the way they are.” And as far as doctrine goes, we need to be conservative. We can’t just go and change it to mean anything we feel like. And because we are conservative in doctrine, that spills over into our practices and traditions as well. Generally we like to keep things the way they are. Generally, we’d rather not change if we don’t have to.
John the Baptist was the opposite of a conservative. He was a liberal. He wasn’t liberal in the sense that he was an animal rights activist or that he took to the streets as an anti-war demonstrator. John was a spiritual liberal, not a political one. And he wasn’t spiritually liberal in the sense that he tried to explain away miracles or that he doubted the authenticity of the Bible. So how are we saying that John the Baptist was a liberal?
Well, if conservatives like to keep things the way they are, then liberals like change. They don’t want to keep things status quo. Liberals want to shake things up! Have you ever come out of church thinking, “well, it was a nice message and all, I learned some things that I didn’t know before…but how did the Word that I heard today apply to my life?” John gives his listeners some very specific and very clear instructions having to do with change. Listen to John’s change-charged words in our text, “‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” Some tax collectors who were used to ripping people off were told to change, “Don’t collect anymore than you are required to.” Some soldiers had used their brute muscle to intimidate common people, much like a school bully that steals lunch money, and John told them to change, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.”
And why change? What was wrong about continuing to live the way they were? There’s a song going around these days, a tune that encourages kids to change, with these words, “you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why: Santa Clause is coming to town. He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.” That’s a make-believe character. John preached about a real being who knows when you are sleeping or awake, a real being who knows when you are good and when you are bad, and a real being who is definitely coming to town: the Messiah. Change was necessary, and quick. John 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.”