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 In theory the prophet’s counsel sounds good… ”Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” But when it comes to actually putting his words into action, we look into our closets and cringe. Like Paul we must confess, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” (Ro 7.19) But this is not all bad news.
As soon as we stumble over some block within us that prevents us from being and doing the greater good, as soon as we bump into a wall that bars us from being in right relationship with one another and God, that cringing, unsettling sense within tells us, we have stumbled onto something important.
What is it that we have stumbled onto? The very obstacles that keep us from being and doing the greater good. In my case the mountain of bumps is mostly made of thoughts; “But I wear most of my coats. Why should I have to do this? I have always taken care of myself. What if I don’t have enough? What if my family has a disaster? What if the economy goes south? Doesn’t God help those who help themselves? Compared to other people I don’t have that much. I have already given at the office. Oh, what should I do?” Please feel free to add your own.
Hearing the prophet's answer to our question, “What then should we do?” our hearts sink into our stomachs, our shoulders hug our ears and we can barely swallow. In this vexing moment we are toe to toe with our stumbling blocks. “What if we come upon hard times? Should we really give away the resources our loved ones should inherit? How do we know what is enough? Why should I give to someone who has not worked like I have? What will people think if I stop striving to acquire more money, power or position?” But alas, these questions miss the mark.
We do not begin with a question of what we do outside. We begin with a question of who we are inside. You see, John the Baptizer is calling our ancestors and us to repent. It is no less than a moral change to turn around and live our lives from the inside out, in accord with who we really are. This is what John is pointing to when he says, “the one who is to come (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”Here is the thing, the Holy Spirit is already breathed like fire into every one of us. We are already the beneficiaries of God’s Spirit with us.
The Holy Spirit of God with us is like the refiner’s fire; it burns away the impurities, the obstacles, whatever prevents us from being our true selves. It is the fiery Spirit of God with us that transforms our stumbling blocks into courage to live beyond the box of our self-centered concerns. It is the fiery Spirit of God with us that ignites our desire to be and to do all that we do for the Greater Glory of God.
The question is not, “How many coats do you have in your closet and how many should you give away?” The question is, “How will you live from the inside out for the greater glory of God?
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