by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
‘And we, what should we do?’ The people asked John the Baptist. Wondering how to prepare for the promised Messiah, the people pressed John… ‘And we, what should we do?’
As we find ourselves in the midst of holiday craziness, trying to finish our shopping, our party-going, our decorating and wrapping… we are so busy, and yet we find ourselves wanting more – not more activity, but more meaning. We want that feeling of the Christmas Spirit to engulf us, so that we can embrace the JOY of Christmas. We are doing all that our time and energy allows, and yet, often we don’t feel joyful and triumphant. And like those people awaiting the coming of the savior, we too ask….’And we, what should we do?’
Today we continue our preparations for the coming of the Savior, born in a baby, and on the third Sunday of Advent, we light the candle for Joy.
What brings you Joy during Christmastime?
The smile of a child, seeing someone you love happy, Just siting in front of the Christmas tree enjoying some quiet time. But these things require something from us… some energy to turn the Christmas lights on and to stop the running around and sit; the perception to recognize when our loved ones are happy; some effort to spend quality time with those we love.
You see, friends, JOY is not achieved by chance. JOY is not a fleeting emotion that comes and goes with the wind. JOY takes work. JOY happens – not when everything is perfect – but JOY can be found even in the midst of life’s struggle. JOY happens through an active, dynamic, internal struggle that tells the darkness, “Not today.” Joy happens for us when we bring JOY to others by showing them we care. JOY happens with some hard work.
So how do we prepare for Christmas? ‘And we, what should we do?’
As we continue our “Christmas Unwrapped” series, we begin with a look at our opening hymn. “O Come, all Ye Faithful” beckons us to come and adore the baby Jesus, the child Messiah, born to us!
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” (originally written in Latin as Adeste Fideles) has been attributed to various authors, as early as the 15th century. (1) It gives us some clues about HOW we can prepare.
First: We come. This indicates ACTION. In order to find our Joy, we need to get up, leave the other behind and come.
Second: We all come together – “All ye faithful”. This is not an individual task. We prepare as a community. Usually, my Christmas joy is realized at the end of our Christmas Eve candlelight service, as I look upon the small bits of light illuminating each face, young and old, different cultures and beliefs, reminding us that we are ALL in this together.
Third: We come joyful and triumphant. And this is the part we need to work on….
And so we turn to our scripture lesson from the gospel of Luke and ask John the Baptist, ‘And we, what should we do?’
Now… Joyful is not how I would characterize John. Our scripture in fact begins with John calling his followers bad names.
Luke 3: 7-18
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 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.’
Yipes! John was not one to gloss-over criticism or play at niceties. We don’t know if he had a bad meal – those locusts and honey upset his tummy. But these were not people challenging him or his ideas; these were his followers, who wanted to be baptized by John! And John threatened them with an axe!
No, he didn’t, but verbally, he was extremely forceful. AND John was calling everyone to get ready, to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. But the great thing about John was that he was not a partisan, he included everyone in his criticism.
Author William Loader described John this way: “John’s radical (negative) inclusiveness had two sides: it brought everyone before the challenge of submission to God’s grace and submersion in the Jordan to signify it; and it demanded of all nothing less than goodness in behavior flowing from goodness of attitude. Repentance never meant remorse alone; it meant change away from one way of being towards another way of being. John was teaching that fruit is what counts.” (2)
What advice does John give to the people?
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.’
Share with others. Don’t cheat others out of their money. Don’t threaten others and be satisfied with what you’ve got. This is how we should prepare to meet the Savior, by bearing good fruit.
Why is this a good preparation for meeting our Lord? (Maybe because when Jesus comes, we want to have a clear conscience, to know that when we meet the baby, we are able to meet him with a clean heart. Maybe because in bearing good fruit, we are able to bring Joy to God’s people and experience Joy ourselves.)
And we, what should we do? We ask. Bear good fruit for God’s people, John answers.
In a search for Joy this season, some of us will answer that bringing joy to others makes US HAPPY as well. The look on their face when you’ve selected the perfect gift. The genuine happiness of someone visited by Christmas carolers. Those things bring us joy.
Our United Methodist Women have been bearing good fruit this season and I wanted to shine a bit of a spotlight on them, because they are so good at their behind the scenes work, that our church community is often unaware of their fruit.
Through your participation, our Thanksgiving Food Drive blessed the people that receive food assistance from Inland Valley Hope Partners, serving the people of Pomona, Ontario, Claremont, San Dimas and Chino. Our UMW collected and delivered two full carloads of canned and packaged food items to those in need of a Thanksgiving Meal.
With your help, The UMW collected 31 Christmas gifts for children in the Serenity Foster Care and Adoption services. Each child will open a gift from you – from us – this Christmas and be blessed by the generosity of a stranger.
In addition to those major projects of the season, they will also arrange for 5 meals for needy families in Walnut for Christmas dinner and they gifted 6 young women at the David and Margaret Home with gift cards for Christmas.
This is all good fruit in preparation for the coming of the Savior. It also – I dare say – brings joy to us (the givers) as we witness the joy our giving brings to others.
And we, what do we do? We do the work of Christmas.
I will close today with a poem by Howard Thurman, author, theologian and civil rights icon. It is called “The Work of Christmas”:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
May we each do the work of Christmas now and throughout the new year, bearing good fruit, bringing joy to ourselves and others as we spread the good news: Jesus is coming! Amen.