Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Third Sunday of Advent
Text: Luke 3: 7-18 "Everything must Change "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
John the Baptist brought a radical message of repentance. With the international news during Advent this year focussed on the Copenhagen talks on Climate Change:
- How is your church getting involved with this?
- How willing are you to turn around and make hard decisions about your own lifestyle, both individually and as a community?
A Window on the Text
John the Baptist, like Jesus, uses examples from people’s everyday life to bring his message to those who listen to him. The serious issues of God’s judgement, of repentance, and of baptism as a new beginning are illustrated by snakes fleeing from a grass fire, the gardener cultivating his fruit trees, and the farmer separating the wheat from the chaff.
Now that he has the crowd’s attention, he continues to explain his message. He is such a charismatic figure that he has drawn together not only the poor Palestinian peasants that would be expected to respond to such a person, but also the tax collectors and soldiers who are part of the system that oppressed the people.
But even the local people are not to rely on their ethnic privilege as children of Abraham – the Jews do not necessarily have the first call on God’s attention. John’s message is that selfishness, extortion, intimidation and blackmail are sins to be found in every walk of life. Not only must the tax collectors act justly and the soldiers be content with their wages - but everyone that has enough to wear and to eat should share their surplus with those who are not so fortunate.
John has raised expectations that he might possibly be the Christ, the Messiah, but is not tempted to claim any special position at all. Normally a preacher would inspire disciples to follow his ways – but John disclaims any privileges and points to the more powerful one who is still to come. All that he is, and says, and does, echoes back through the history of the people of Israel from Elijah and Isaiah to Isaac, Samson and Samuel. We are told that he “exhorted the people with many other words” – would that we knew even more of them in order to be further inspired by this unique and provocative figure!
Responding as a community
- John stresses that whatever our occupation, it should be underscored by the virtues of assistance to others, honesty and equity. Discuss how this impacts on your own jobs, and on those with access to power and privilege, such as bankers and politicians.
- John says that it doesn’t matter how long you have kept up traditional religious observances, what is important is how you respond to God and live your life right now. What message does this have to our churches in a rapidly changing world – particularly in the area of environmental issues, global poverty and the economic crisis?
- What do we understand by baptism today? Should the church be offering a special blessing to people at significant stages in their lives separately from an event that signifies “the joy and burden of being fully part of the Body of Christ?” (see also Going Deeper, below)
Light a candle (or three if you are using the traditional Advent wreath) for John the Baptist and use this prayer based on Luke 3: 7 – 18
(Heather Pencavel, from ‘Shine on, Star of Bethlehem’, a worship resource for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany compiled by Geoffrey Duncan for Christian Aid.)
Straight talk – that’s John,
Telling it like it is.
Sometimes it all seems very simple:
God reigns, God judges
Just sharing of property
No bullying, no blackmail
No greed. Simple enough.
God you are coming to your people
to reign with justice.
Help us to recognise your coming
in fair trade campaigns
in consultation between management and workers
in power structures which put human well-being as their first priority.
Reigning, judging God,
come today to our world of trade
and show us how to make it fair:
come to our industry and work through us
to create fulfilling work and fair conditions;
come to our authority structures
and show us how to blend mercy with justice.
Let your reign of justice begin today.
Traditionally disciples were meant to do tasks for the rabbi that they followed, however menial. However the one they were not supposed to do was to untie his sandal thongs – this was too degrading a task and should be left to a slave. John’s statement that he was unworthy even to untie the sandal straps of the one who will succeed him is a powerful message.
- The priests and Levites would have been specialists in the rules of ritual purification, but John’s version of baptism was new. Ritual washing was common, in preparation for worship and was self-administered. John’s baptism was a single, unrepeatable action, and was a communal event with corporate significance. It was not held inside a ritual building, but outside in view of everyone. (For further thought on this, see ‘The Meaning is in the Waiting, the Spirit of Advent’ by Paula Gooder.)
- See http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10765 for Simon Barrow’s address given at St Stephen’s Church in Exeter on 6 December. It includes good reflections on Advent in the context of climate change, social justice, challenging unjust structures, baptism, and the possibility of change. Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.
- See Brian McLaren at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5zZOPfrVxU&feature=related for a talk about the need for Christian to change.