And So It Begins

Today we celebrate the first week of Advent. Advent is our four-week season of preparation for the nativity of Emmanuel, God-with-us. The first week is always spent talking about the prophecies that foretold Jesus’ coming, and today’s passage is one of those prophecies that leads us straight to Jesus. We begin with a word of warning from John the Baptizer:

Luke 7 (New Revised Standard Version)

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. 

John’s startling appearance at the beginning of Advent always reminds me of someone’s weird Uncle John who shows up 4 days late for Thanksgiving and disrupts the tryptophan-induced coma that the family has been comfortably enjoying. He looks strange, he dresses oddly, and he eats some weird kind of keto-paleo-whole 30-vegan diet that only consists of locusts and honey. He barges in with a loud message of repentance and warns about the judgment that is coming. He interrupts the football games and calls the family a “brood of vipers” … basically killing the mood as you’re trying to get ready for Christmas. Yeah, John is a total buzz kill. John’s message was hard to hear then, and it is hard to hear today. What does he mean by bearing fruits that are worthy of repentance?

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 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.”

Did you get that?

Share your resources with people in need.

Practice integrity in your work.

Treat people fairly.

Don’t cheat anyone.

Only speak the truth.

Be content with what you have.

And repent and return to God with your whole heart.

John’s “Getting Ready for Christmas List” was long, complicated, and had nothing to do with decorating, shopping, buying, and waiting for Amazon deliveries. Getting ready for Christmas really involves getting our hearts and minds ready to worship the Christ child in the manger, and bowing down our expectations, disappointments, hopes, ambitions, frustrations, and every other part of our selves before his throne.

How will you get ready this Christmas? May we heed John’s words and share what we have while we adopt a life of Christ-like integrity. This is the best way to prepare for the birth of the baby king. Are you in?

Ready or Not by Kathy Schumacher

Preparation is Key

I faced a dilemma a few weeks ago. It was a crazy-busy Sunday in the height of the summer season on the Outer Banks. A nation-wide worker shortage is adversely affecting the restaurant business, and wait times of up to two and a half hours for a table are not unheard of, especially for Sunday brunch. We were blessed to have our District Superintendent visit us for worship, but that left us with a problem of where to take him for lunch afterward. Lo and behold, one of my favorite restaurant offers reservations. Bliss!

Can you imagine the incredible work and preparation that goes into running a restaurant? From ordering supplies, hiring and scheduling workers, designing menus, ensuring that equipment and ingredients are prepared and ready to go everyday….it boggles the mind.

Now think about what happens when a restaurant, a business, a surgery, a classroom, or even a short trip happens without proper planning. It can spell disaster in a hurry.

When God sent out those who would be prophets, he was preparing the people for things to come. God was hoping to guarantee their success by being specific with the words the prophets were to proclaim on his behalf. It must have been a terrible calling, especially for the Old Testament prophets who were instructed to warn their people of the coming wrath and judgment.

But when John the Baptistizer was called to be a prophet, his message was “repent, for the kingdom is at hand.” He was to serve as a preparer of the way, making things ready for Jesus to come. Jesus himself affirmed John’s ministry:

Luke 7:24-35 (Common English Bible)

24 After John’s messengers were gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind?25 What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who dress in fashionable clothes and live in luxury are in royal palaces.26 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 He is the one of whom it’s written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.

Everything takes preparation, even a good messiahship. John was the “back of house” fellow who labored in the kitchen, chopping and prepping the mis en place so that when the real deal came, the table had already been set.

28 I tell you that no greater human being has ever been born than John. Yet whoever is least in God’s kingdom is greater than he.”29 Everyone who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and legal experts rejected God’s will for themselves because they hadn’t been baptized by John.

Those who were humble and received John’s baptism were prepared for a place in the kingdom that would be even higher than his. But the arrogant, prideful ones who rejected John’s baptism would pay the price for their haughtiness. There are consequences for rejecting God.

Are you prepared? Do you know where you will spend eternity? Are you prepared to answer for your life? Are you ready to teach the next generation about the kingdom of God?

Is it time to repent?

Make ready, for the day of the Lord is at hand.

Prepare the Way by Kathy Schumacher