What then shall we do?
Facing the Frenzy
John 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? Bear 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. Even now the ax 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."Oh, the way things are going today. The news is full of sensational events, and even more sensational responses from the politicians and media personalities attempting to use them to get our attention (and the market share of our viewing of media in all its forms). There are now stories being reported on about stories being reported on about events that have taken place....and then there are commentaries on those. It's that confusing. Sadly, though, it is not only confusing; it's frightening. the fear is palpable. People fear for their safety. People fear enemies that are visible at a distance, and invisible here at home. People fear so much, because as the world gets crazier, bit by bit, our ability to control what is happening in front of us (or even maintain the semblance of control) feels like it is quickly ebbing away.
And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers 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."
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John 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. His 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." So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. (Luke 3:7-18)
The temptation, and many take the opportunity, is to cast about and define a group, or groups, as those responsible for the chaos. Someone has to be responsible, and so someone should do somethine about "those people." The downside is that the moment we resort to that posture, we begin a process of dehumanization of the other. It doesn't take much. For some, the disclosure that perpetrators of a recent mass shooting were radicalized individuals expressing a distorted version of Islam was enough to cause a spasm of anti-Islamic/anti-refugee/anti-immigrant statements. For others, those statements provide the opportunity to dehumanize those espousing the rhetoric. It doesn't take much. For other still, it is an opportunity to get MORE attention and energy out of the system. It's more sound bites, and more stories about stories about stories.....and so on.
What gets lost in all that are two essential understandings that we as followers of Jesus REALLY need to hold on to in the days to come, PARTICULARLY because the days to come entail marking the Advent of Jesus himself. He is the one coming into the world, be it in history as a babe lying in a manger, first born of Mary; or at the end of days as the one coming in the clouds, with glory. Jesus is coming, and is already here....and we have a lot to answer for, at least we do in the notations above from the Gospel of Luke.
John the Baptist is in the countryside, preaching and baptizing. He is the "voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare the way!"
John catches us up....or if he does not get you with the first line, then he should at the second. You see, we are that brood of vipers. We are those who go out to see the novelty of a wildman's preaching. We are those who seize upon a possible "solver of problems" for this age. We are those who want answers, and more than answers....assurances that we will be "OK" when the wrath to come actually gets here.
John's challenge to that is to give us pretty clear direction....and that direction is FOR US.
"What then shall we do?" is the question posed by those with power, by those with money, by those with coercive influence over the population....
What then shall we do?
The person with two coats should give one to the person who has none.
The person who levies resources from others should take only the amount proscribed, and not more
The soldier who has physical dominance should protect, and not extort...anything.
Simple, we should when times are tough, when they are crazy, when things are out of control be the very people Jesus expects to encounter when he arrives. We are called to be people prepared for a winnowing, to have the chaff beaten off us on the threshing floor so that the good grain can be gathered up.
May there be more grain than chaff.
That is what is up to us. Do we choose the fear? Do we opt for distrust? Do we choose to allow evil and violence to write the script for us until all that is left is blood and loss?
Or, do we hear again the promises delivered to the shepherds....that a child has been born who will be called the Prince of Peace....
Do we choose peace? That is the challenge, and it is not an easy one to accept....because it means working through fear, through anxiety, through disruption and through distortion to a place where we can claim an equanimity that means we really have in our hearts prepared the way of the Lord. The mountains of fear have been leveled. The valleys of distrust have been filled. The rubble of hate and prejudice have been cleared. Into that open, level and clean place, our Savior comes.