What then should we do?
Mary Copping, 16 December 2018
Zephaniah 3: 14–20; Luke 3: 7–18
Throughout the Bible, God promises the coming of his son, Jesus. His coming, his birth, is the hinge point of all human history: almighty God, creator of the universe, coming to us as a baby. This is who we await with expectancy in this time of Advent. And this is the Messiah to whom John the Baptist points.
At the beginning of Luke’s gospel we’re told that when Mary, the mother of Jesus, ran to tell her cousin Elizabeth the news of the coming birth of Jesus, the baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, recognising the Messiah he would be foretelling in the years to come. Many years later, he emerged in the wilderness to tell people about Jesus’ coming. John the Baptist was an austere figure dressed in camel hair and eating locusts and wild honey. He was written about in Malachi: ‘See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me’.
John was preparing the way for the Messiah, describing a powerful leader coming to change the world. As he made way for Jesus, I wonder what his thoughts were as he saw Jesus’ ministry. We know that when he was in prison, he sent his disciples to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Was he doubting that this was the one he had been telling about?
Are we also looking for Jesus to be that powerful leader, to change our world, as we look at the mess that we have made? Or are we asking – as people did of John when he called them to repent – what then should we do?
In this time of Advent, we prepare for Jesus’ coming as a baby as well as looking towards a future coming, as in our creed we say, ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead’. And each of us will have a different way of understanding this. But meanwhile, in our lives here on earth, how do we welcome Christ’s coming now? How do we prepare the way for him, asking, as the people asked of John, what then should we do?
Recently I read a lovely piece of good news in amongst all the difficult and disheartening news that has been coming to us lately. A young boy posted a birthday card to his father, who died in 2015, and on the envelope he put, ‘Can you take this to heaven for my dad’s birthday? Thanks.’ In the busyness of the sorting office, one postman noticed this and took the time to write back to the boy, telling him that he had posted it; it had been difficult getting there because of the satellites in the way, but he had got it to his dad. The boy was overjoyed. Here was God’s love in action, here was Christ coming now in our world for a hurting little boy.
John calls the people to repent, to turn away from their sin and to live new lives. In New Testament Greek, the word for repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind in how we live. For us, what opportunities for metanoia appear right in front of us now? What do those opportunities ask of us? To raise the question again about ourselves, ‘What then should we do?’ As we prepare in this time of Advent, in prayer and repentance and looking to Christ afresh, what is he asking us to do that is right in front of us?
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Winchester Civic Prayer Breakfast. It’s a time for people from all over the city – including the mayor, people from the Nightshelter, Trinity Centre, street pastors, churches – to talk and pray about all that is being done in our city and to discover more from each other about what is happening. The verse used was, ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’ (Jeremiah 29: 7). Here were people – some churchgoers, some not – all concerned with the welfare of Winchester, all wanting to try to make Winchester a better place, and many prayers were prayed. Many of you will be involved in some of the organisations represented there. These people had asked themselves, ‘What then should we do?’ to serve God, to serve the city, and had decided to do something.
As we prepare for Christ’s coming and ask afresh, ‘What then should we do?’ we can take this time to look at our lives afresh and ask God to show us the places where we can make changes for the better.
Before Christmas comes, do we need to say sorry to someone we have hurt, forgive someone who has hurt us, make contact with someone we have not seen for many years, even perhaps make contact again with God, who we may have lost along the way in our busyness? All should be done in prayer and study of his word.
Before Christmas comes, do we need to say sorry to someone we have hurt, forgive someone who has hurt us, make contact with someone we have not seen for many years?
Perhaps we can look at our relationships, and the way we deal with people, in the light of God’s love. Are we the loving peacemakers that Christ wants us to be?
Perhaps we can look at what we have that we can share, that we can be generous with, that we can give away, to those in need.
We here in this church can worship God, knowing God’s presence through the readings, hymns, prayers and the Eucharist, receiving God’s love in this place and through the community of believers here. And as we go out of here, in the light of all that God gives us, can we ask the question again of the Lord, ‘What then should we do?’ And as we prepare the way of the Lord in our everyday lives, as we welcome him in and ask him to help us to be what he wants us to be, so other people see that Jesus remains active in the world, because they see his love, his light, his truth in our lives. As our faith produces good fruit, then the world becomes different, and so do we.
In a world where we may feel we have no control and there’s no chance for anything to be different, we can be the difference. And, as Christians, this begins with openness to God. Each of us is to listen to God, to receive from him and then follow all that he asks us to do or to be, in prayer or action: to be his love and his light in this broken world. Amen.