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 ax 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."
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."
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Reflection “What then should we do?” I believe we need to join the disquieted crowds in Luke’s gospel and respond to the gnarly prophet John’s indictment that “every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” asking, “What should we do? How are we to bear good fruit?”
We are three weeks into the season of Advent. We are “filled with expectation” as we await the coming of new light and life in the birth of Jesus the Christ and the question in our hearts ought to be, “How are we to prepare our hearts and minds to receive the Chirst? Said another way, “How are we to prepare the Way of the Lord?”
The prophet John is unequivocal. Bear good fruit. Share your resources. Treat others with compassion and justice. Don’t be greedy. Be satisfied with what you have. In so doing you prepare yourselves to be revelations of the Light of Christ born again. It is simple and straighforward. The Way of the Lord is the Way of compassion and justice. And, the Way of the Lord is not all warm and fuzzy. The Way of the Lord is swaddled in danger and risk. There are trials and consequences along the Way.
What is not compassionate and just, what is not good fruit, will be thrown into the refiners fire because the innocent babe in the manger, the fragil light of new life, will grow up to be a radical, subversive, firey presence who initiates a movement that changes history. That tiny light becomes the refiner’s fire that settles for nothing less than transformed lives. But even though the prophet’s words may sound harsh they are not about punishment. They are about transformation. You see the refiner’s fire is not out of control and destructive. The refiner’s fire is controlled fire. It extracts the gold from the ore, it plies metal into exquisite creations, it culls followers from among the crowds and produces good fruit. The refiner’s fire transforms our frightened, selfish, greedy creatureliness into the image of the Chirst born again in our hearts. It is for this that we await, filled with expectation.
May the refining fire of Advent give birth to a deeper and more refined experience of God’s Presence in your heart, in your mind and in all of your relations.