Summary: John the Baptizer’s call for repentance calls us to live the live we already know.
As I reminisce on Christmas this year a few movies come to mind. It’s a wonderful life, miracle on 34th street; a Christmas story is my favorite. Another favorite is the edited version of Christmas Vacation. That movie is full of hilarious scenes and the one I believe to be my favorite changes from day to day depending on who I’m with. But I must say that my favorite character in all those movies is Cousin Eddy. You remember cousin Eddy with his white paten leather shoes, the proud father of his son training for the carnival who next year hopes to move from hosting the Yak woman to guessing weight. My favorite cousin eddy scene is at the dinner table on Christmas eve, where Clark declares to the children that he heard an airline pilot has just spotted Santa, and everyone smiles with anxious anticipation and laughter until Eddy ask, “Are you serious, Clark?”
Our text today is Luke 3: 2 and following and while your turning there may I ask you: do any of you have a relative, an uncle, a cousin, a family member that might be just a little bit embarrassing? Maybe she is eccentric, or maybe he is bull-headed. Now be careful here, I don’t want any of you naming any names. See, because some of you are related and you might just name somebody here. Or maybe you’re thinking, heck I am the relative that embarrasses everyone. Well for what it’s worth today, Jesus had a rather eccentric cousin. He certainly is not as clueless or thoughtless as cousin Eddy, but no doubt John, the son of Zechariah had to be a tough character to grow up with and once he was grown he only grew more peculiar. And while it may be entirely appropriate to dismiss cousin Eddy or whoever comes to your mind, we should be more careful about dismissing John and his message.
There is little background to give you concerning this passage. John precedes Jesus in ministry and this is the beginning of that ministry. John prepares the way with a call for repentance.
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’"  7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "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." 10 "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." 15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.  16 John answered them all, "I baptize you with  water. But one more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.
Lets be real here a minute. John is not a likeable character. John is plain spoken. He is no diplomat. He calls them like he sees them. He is a purist and uncompromising, which is both appreciable and maddening. You may get the idea of a hell-fire and brimstone country preacher when you read about John, but the truth is, is that he wouldn’t make in that setting anymore than he would in ours or a more urban setting. John’s gift is prophecy not mercy, not compassion. In fact, Jesus’ compassion and mercy surprises John.