Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, December 16, 2012:

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Isaiah 12:2-6 (Isaiah 12:6)

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

Today's Gospel shows the fiery side of John the Baptist, who calls his audience a brood of vipers and warns of celestial axes coming to cut down the trees that aren't bearing fruit. Not a very Christmasy message.

But what a contrast to the message of excessive consumerism bleating at us from every portal of communication this time of year. I find it refreshing, this apocalyptic thread of Scripture running parallel to the beat of capitalism.

Go back to that agricultural metaphor of John's: "Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3: 9). The New Year approaches, and many people are thinking about how they've failed in their plans for this year, and how they might get on track for next year. Instead of focusing on appearance and weight loss, as so many people do, we might turn some attention to our spiritual lives. If God was a gardener, and we were trees in the orchard, what would God do?

Would we be chopped down, thrown into the fire?

John's message is not this one of despair. He doesn't say, "There's nothing you can do. The messiah is coming, and all is lost."

No, John tells us to repent. It's not too late. The word repent is often associated with seeking forgiveness of sins, but that's a very narrow definition. The larger meaning of that word is to turn. Turn away from what isn't working in our lives. Turn towards God and all the ways our lives could be better.

How are you bearing fruit? One reason God came to be with us, one reason God took on human form--to show us how to live. If living like Jesus is your goal, what kinds of practices can get you there?

What personality traits bear fruit? What needs to be chopped away? What spiritual practices should you think about incorporating in the coming year, to support your plans to be more Christ-like? More prayer? One day of fasting a week? Less spending on yourself? More sharing? More patience? More volunteer time? Cutting back on debt, so that you don't have to work such ridiculous hours? Living more simply, so that you have more to share with others?

I know, you're thinking that you don't have time for this kind of contemplation right now. You're very, very busy: Christmas gatherings to attend, shopping to do, cooking to complete, getting packed for your holiday journeys.

We live in a culture that likes to keep us busy. We are all too busy to heed John's message: "Repent." Turn around. Do it now, before it is too late.

What would our culture look like if we took Jesus as our model of behavior? If we trusted God more? If, instead of listening to the blare of TV and the Internet and the many forms of media, what would happen if we listened for God? What would happen if we structured our lives according to the plan that Jesus reveals? What would happen if we decided that Jesus meant what he said, and we structured our lives accordingly?

As you think about the implications of the answers to those questions, you see why our culture rushes in to fill the voids that most of us don't even perceive in our individual lives and larger communities. For if we lived our lives and made our decisions based on the Kingdom that Jesus reveals, it would be a very different world indeed. John gives us a hint later in the Gospel for today: if you have two coats, share with the person who has none, and likewise with food; don't cheat people; be content with your wages.

Repent. Turn away from the life of bloat and greed that our culture of consumption offers us. Turn towards a vision of Kingdom living. Don't wait until you're dead. Do what you can to create the Kingdom here and now.

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