Advent Readings Day 7 – Radical Assessment & Adjustment
“John answered,’The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.’” Luke 3:11
We only have to read one chapter further from Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus to see a glimpse of what Jesus came to do. Now, I know that for some people this seems out of line. Come on now, aren’t we supposed to be talking about the sweet manger scene, the cows lowing (what is lowing anyways?) and the little baby no crying He makes? Yet, as we move away from the image of that night in Bethlehem we see Dr. Luke jump right into the conspiracy of justice and mercy of Jesus’ coming and how He calls you and I to join Him in it.
In Luke 3 we read of John The Baptist and his role in preparing the way for Jesus. I find his approach to winning converts fascinating. His message is not so much about fringe benefits, but rather it is a message of radical repentance which is demonstrated through action. As John prepares the way for Jesus, we see a radical shifting of priorities preached in order to prepare the way for responding to Jesus and His Kingdom message. John’s repentance has a punch in it as he calls people to action – to giving away one tunic, if they had two…to sharing…to not cheating…to not extorting…to speaking truthfully. The repentance that he preached had signs of changed behavior. It wasn’t that somehow people got nicer, but rather there was a radical shift that occurred for them as they turned toward God and away from life as they knew it.
I am struck by the contrast of John’s message leading up to the proclamation of what Jesus had come to do and the way North American culture leads up to the celebration of Jesus’ coming. For instance, I recently heard of a church group whose women were celebrating by having a “Purse Party.” I’ve never been to a Purse Party before, but I was intrigued to hear more. Women were told to bring a purse to swap. However when folks arrived they made two different piles – one for designer purses and one for non-designer. If you brought a designer purse, you took a designer purse home with you. If you brought a non-designer purse, then you picked from the “loser” pile. Is this really the best we can do in our lead up to celebrating Jesus, The King of All.
I contrast this with a group of brave people who trusted me about 3 years ago in a challenge during advent. I asked them that if they had 2 coats to bring 1 to church on Sunday morning and we were going to literally live out John’s call to repentance. I was so proud as our small church brought 52 NICE coats to worship that morning. They brought leather. They brought designer. They brought favorite coats. They were not torn nor tattered. Some were like new. We made a pile of those coats as a symbol of what repentance looks like and then my friend Jeff delivered them to the local Rescue Mission. The guys at the Mission were blown away as they filled a bin full of coats on a cold December morning that they could now distribute to people who could not afford 1 coat.
I believe that in that act there was something that shifted in many of us. As we confronted our desires to hold on to possessions and hoard and to keep for our personal use with a spirit of giving, Jesus met us and He brought about change. We got to experience a taste of what Jesus’ coming really is all about and what repentance tastes like.
And you know what, I didn’t hear about one person from the church who went cold that winter, but I’m sure there were a number of people from the local Mission grateful to have gone warm!
Jesus, help me to live out Christmas this year in the spirit in which you came. Help me to make an assessment of why I celebrate and how I celebrate your birth. Give me courage to make adjustments to our celebration that would bring glory to you, that would help us to see you more fully and that would share you with others. When the rest of the culture is pulling toward materialism and consumerism, help me to keep my focus on you and to push back. AMEN