“What Should We Do?”

3rd Sunday of Advent

Despite the complications of the heavy storm, the family still decided to come. They came to St. Paul’s Friday evening to have their children baptized: a nearly three-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. Afterwards, I asked the daughter what it was like to get baptized. She answered, “It felt like Jesus was in my heart.” Truly and beautifully, that’s what baptism does. Through simple water and simple words, new Christians are born with Christ living within them.

Large crowds came to St. John the Baptist to be baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. Now this was neither sacramental baptism nor sacramental confession but a preparation for what was next. John the Baptist preached that he was sent by God to prepare his people for the coming of the Messiah. Regular folks, and tax collectors, and soldiers all asked this forerunner of the Christ: “What should we do? Teacher, Rabbi, what should we do?” And what really strikes me about John the Baptist’s answers is what John the Baptist doesn’t say.

He does not say, “Give all your food and clothing away.” He says to the crowds, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” He does not say to servants of King Herod and Caesar, “Abandon your posts and revolt against your rulers.” He says to the tax collectors, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed,” and to the soldiers, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” The plan of God is to change the world by transforming individuals within the world.

John does not send people on a complicated, epic quest. They can begin doing what they need to do to prepare for Christ’s coming immediately where they’re at. John instructs them and us to do simple things: share with the needy as you are able, stop stealing, stop lying, and stop coveting what others have. These acts belong to basic justice: treating other people at least as well as you ought to be treated yourself.

Can Jesus Christ call us from this to more advanced discipleship? To sacrifice for the Kingdom of God? To suffer for the sake of righteousness? To embrace poverty, or celibacy, or radical obedience? To take solemn vows like the retired religious whose special collection is this weekend? Certainly! The Old Covenant teaches lessons for walking in justice while Christ’s New Covenant goes further, as with the Beatitudes. However, we must walk with the Lord before we can run with the Lord.

Do you grumble, discontent with what you have? Do you deceive, not always speaking what is true? Do you take what is not yours to take, or keep what is not yours to keep? Do you fail to share what is your surplus with others in need? Then you know what you should do this Advent to prepare for the Christmas coming of Christ. Convert more space in your heart for Jesus that he may fully live in you and you may fully live in him.

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