(watch here: https://youtu.be/miPs0bssHew)
7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
10And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
As I was reflecting on our passage from Luke this week, I came across the funny one about a group of men who were at the gym club when a cellphone rings. One of the men answers, “Yes?” “Hon, is that you? I can hardly hear you,” replies the woman. The man screams, “Hello!”
“Are you at the gym?”
“Well, I’m in front of the fur shop and they have this beautiful mink coat. Can I buy it?”
“How much is it?”
“About five thousand dollars.”
“Okay, but buy a matching purse that goes with it too, my love.”
“Well, it also turns out that I stopped by the car dealership today and saw they have a brand new BMW on sale and it’s the last one.”
“How much is it on sale?”
“Only sixty thousand dollars!”
“Fine, buy it, but you have to get it with all of the accessories, and if it costs only a little more, I won’t get mad.”
The woman, realizing all of her requests were being approved, decided to take a risk. “Honey, remember that I told you that my mother wants to come live with us? Is it okay if I invite her over for a month, just to try it out, and after a month we can talk about it again.”
“Okay, fine, but don’t ask me for anything else, okay?”
“Yes, yes, I love you so much, baby.”
“Love you too, bye.”
As soon as he hangs up the man turns to look at the group and asks, “Does anyone know whose cellphone this is?”
If only we could all be as generous as that sneaky man in real life! And yet that is precisely how John would have us to do with our belongings and our lives! We heard in our reading that we are to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” What does that mean? It means our giving should reflect what we’ve been given. In repentance, we open ourselves to receive not only forgiveness but a freed conscience and a new life. More importantly, we open ourselves to receiving Christ. We can’t receive forgiveness and a freed conscience and new life and Christ unless we are willing to acknowledge our sins and ask God for an alternative way of living. Repentance lets God know that we want to change our ways and we need his help. John was big on repentance and getting us to repent as a way of preparing us to receive Christ. Don’t think you need to repent? Think again! We ALL have something that needs God’s forgiveness. None of us is perfect. But the good news is that Christ came for ALL of us. Christ came so that ALL might be saved and have new life in him. In just a few days, we will again celebrate the coming of Christ into our broken, fallen world. Christ will come into the hearts of many this season but only if they’ve been opened to receive him. John helps to open our hearts through repentance.
Once you’ve received Christ into your heart, it’s hard not to bear fruit. As we hear in the gospel of John, Jesus declares, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (15:5) Jesus enables us to bear much fruit because he is the source of all life. He is life itself! Of course we create food that feeds and sustains other life…the life of Jesus is within us. It is his very life coming out of us that feeds others. We must simply stay connected to the vine and we will bear fruit…much fruit. The sneaky man in that opening joke gave what he didn’t have but his generosity is to be emulated. After all, it is how generous God is to us. The apostle Paul writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5:1-2) God gave us his Son who loves us so much that he was willing to die for us. And God continues to send his Son to love us and guide us and protect us. Our generosity should be like his.
So what fruit should we bear? It’s a question many of us wrestle with during this season of giving gifts: what gift should I give? Unlike those lists of gifts for family and friends, Scripture gives us a list of items that you can’t find in a store. Paul refers to them as the “fruit of the Spirit.” In his letter to his congregation at Galatia, he explains, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (5:22-23) We are to love each other, bring joy and peace to each other, show patience and kindness to each other, be generous, faithful, and gentle with each other, and always try to display self-control. As you can see, these aren’t tangible things you can pick up at the store. And yet we need them if we are going to be in healthy, life-giving relationships with each other. Every relationship can benefit from more of these fruit. What’s more important than relationships in our lives? Relationships with our bosses, relationships with our co-workers, relationships with our spouses, relationships with our children, relationships with our siblings, relationships with our parents, relationships with our friends, relationships with ourselves, relationships with God…these are all essential for a good life, especially if they are good relationships. Paul goes further in his letter to his congregation at Philippi, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (2:3-4) Humble, selfless relationships of service are the root of everything good in this world.
This is exactly what comes to us on Christmas morning–an opportunity for a humble, selfless relationship of service. Let us heed John’s words and prepare our hearts to receive Christ. Once we’ve received him, let us reveal him to the world around us. Let us bear fruit and give generously. We might not have money for fur coats or fancy cars but Christ is the best gift of the season anyway so share him generously with others. Let the Spirit bless our relationships with its fruit. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.