by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, January 6, 2013:
optional texts: Psalm 51:6-17 or 51:13
John the Baptist often shows up during Advent, either as the baby in Elizabeth's womb who moves when Mary arrives, or as his prophet self in the wilderness who tells people that he's not the Messiah. It's a mantra we would all do well to adapt: "I am not the Messiah. The redemption of the world does not rest on my shoulders."
Of course, if I did go around saying that, John the Baptist might accuse me of being part of the brood of vipers that he castigates in today's reading. It's much too easy to say, "I am not responsible," and then to sit back and do nothing. Today's reading makes clear that doing nothing is not an option.
Here's the good news contained in today's reading: what we must do is not really that hard. Look at verses 10-15 and remember again our task: to share what we have with those who have nothing, to not take more than our share, to deal with people fairly, and to be content. On its surface, it seems so simple--why are these goals so hard for so many people?
Perhaps, as with so many New Year's resolutions, we try to do too much all at once. Maybe we should start small. Here are some possibilities: once a week, buy 10 cans of food for your local food pantry. Once a week, sort through your possessions and give away one thing. Tip 1 or 2% more than you do right now. Eat a meatless meal once a week--and give what you save to an organization like Lutheran World Relief that gives money to people who struggle in developing nations. Put 5 more dollars in the offering plate each week. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
John makes clear what the penalty will be if we do not adjust our trajectory to be more generous people. He talks of axes taken to trees that do not bear good fruit, he talks of winnowing forks, and he talks of chaff being thrown into the fire. We may feel despairing as John assails us again and again with our unworthiness.
The end of the reading gives us more hope. Note that Jesus has God's approval, even before his ministry starts. God does not withhold favor until the job is done. Like John the Baptist, we're often much more harsh with ourselves than God is.
God delights in us, the way that God delights in Jesus at the baptism scene. You already have God's favor--now go out and live like you believe that fact.