Summary: 3 Advent C, John’s tough love awakes our need for fruitful living in repentance
Real Repentance Needs Fruit
"What should we do then?" the crowd asked. 11 John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" 13 "Don’t collect any more than you are required to," he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely--be content with your pay."
Some children were asked what love is. The responses were quite interesting and instructive for us adults. One said, "Love is when my mommy makes a cup of coffee for my daddy and takes a little taste before she gives it to him to make sure it tastes okay." Another said, "Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you’ve left him alone all day." A response was, "You really shouldn’t say, ’I love you’ unless you really mean it, but if you mean it you should say it a lot, people forget." One boy said, "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth." And finally 7 year old Bobby said, "Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
Yes, Christmas is the time we think a lot about love. And it’s also what motivated John’s conversation with the crowds he encountered. It might not sound much like love, but it still is love. Because John knew that to announce the coming of the Savior would take a lot of pointed confrontation about sin, repentance and the fruit of repentance. He knew that most people don’t want to acknowledge their guilt before one another and God. He knew that most have much to be guilty about and that we all deserve condemnation for our sins. And he knew that the only way we can receive the true Savior was to recognize our sin, repent of that sin and turn to a new life offered by the Lord who has gone to the cross to pay the penalty for our guilt before God almighty.
Christmas with all its trappings of lights, bows, gaily wrappings, greens and such seems like a time when the evil of the world is being hidden from view. And for some that is exactly how they deal with Christmas. They put on their finest clothes, clean their houses, decorate their lives with false kindness, and act so sweetly even toward those who they dislike. Some families spend the whole rest of the year bickering and arguing over petty jealousies and hurts and yet at Christmas they put that all under the wrappings and treat each other with smiles and hugs and kisses, but only for a day or two. After the Christmas presents are opened and the decorations come down, they are once again at each other’s throats. That’s not the way John wanted Christmas to become. He wanted the joy and love of Christ to influence the whole year, each believer, and every church.
Listen to what John said today, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 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." He is speaking to the inner man and woman within each of our hearts. He knows that we are trying hard to hide our evil intentions and desires. He calls his listeners vipers for their vile hearts have made them deceivers of the highest order. They follow Satan easier than they follow God, because since the first sin of Adam Satan has been our master. John is wrestling with Satan in each one of his hearers’ hearts. It’s a mighty struggle he is engaged in. He must speak harshly or the master of lies will not listen. He must shake us free from the courteous discourse we are used to hearing so we will hear and respond to the tough but loving message he brings.
John must have had an impact. The crowd must have heard his message. Because they began to ask him what his tough love message of doom without repentance really meant. They must have begun to worry about their eternal state of affairs. Maybe we should worry more about that too than about what we’re going to buy for Aunt Esther or what we’re going to get from mom and dad this Christmas. If we really hear God’s word and sincerely repent perhaps we would ask the same questions as the crowd. Sometimes it seems that with our Lutheran idea of salvation freely given by God’s grace through faith for Christ’s sake, that we forget to ask what we are to do to respond to that grace, how we are to act in our faith response, what would Jesus have us do to show the fruit of that faith we have by God’s word and sacraments. Christmas is a fitting time to ask these kinds of questions-for we’re already getting in the love action mood this time of year.