'The people who came out to John and believed his message asked what they should do to go with the trend of God’s action. How should they behave in the light of God’s coming kingdom? For John was quite clear that anyone who didn’t follow the trend was going to be overtaken by it and left behind. You couldn’t depend on your ancestry to save you in the day when it became evident what God was doing. You had to get with it.'
Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2021
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III
In 1982, John Naisbitt published Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. It spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. I remember dipping into a copy in high school. Yes, I was weird even then. But maybe some of you read the book as well.
What made people want to read the book? Trendiness can be cool in fashion, but knowing trends can be very important in business and politics. Those who read the book did so because they wanted to get on board with what was happening in order to profit from it, either financially or politically. Some people may have read it for interest’s sake. Pastors back then may have read it to see how to preach the Gospel.
Why are we so interested in what people predict? If they’re right, and sometimes they are, we can both protect ourselves against danger and maximize our chances for success. Sometimes predictions are based on data, sometimes on personal bias, sometimes on extremely shady pseudo-science. Occasionally, all three are present. Nevertheless, the predictions and those who make them are extremely interesting. We are drawn to them, fascinated by them, often hanging upon every word which is said. Often, those who believe and start to live by the predictions are part of the in-group; anecdotal evidence becomes support of the predictions, and anything contradicting them is discarded as unclear and an outright lie. This is how conspiracy theories of all kinds begin.
But you didn’t come today to hear a sociology lecture; at least, I hope you didn’t. You came today to hear good news. Today, the Scriptures give you good news, a prediction of sorts, a mega-mega trend, if you like.
John the Baptist never wrote a best-selling book. His message was delivered in-person. You did have to take some time to come out to hear it; there were no book reviews in print or online back then. If you had come out to hear him, you would have heard this: The kingdom of God is coming.
John did not base his prediction upon data; he based it upon the word of God that came to him in the wilderness – specifically the part of Isaiah chapter 40 which reads:
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
This was the trend he saw in the Scriptures: God coming to his people to set them free from their enemies; sin, death, and evil. Why was it so important for him to spread this message? He wasn’t going to profit by it. But it was important for him to spread the message because he was part of what God was doing. He was preparing the way of the Lord so that his people would prepare the way of the Lord.
The people who came out to him and believed his message asked what they should do to go with the trend of God’s action. How should they behave in the light of God’s coming kingdom? For John was quite clear that anyone who didn’t follow the trend was going to be overtaken by it and left behind. You couldn’t depend on your ancestry to save you in the day when it became evident what God was doing. You had to get with it.
One of the ways of getting with it, as Luke reports it, is about the seventh commandment: Luther explains it this way: We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbor’s money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income. John the Baptist reminds those with power, the tax collectors and the soldiers, that they are not to abuse that power by taking what little the people have away from them. They are to collect no more than required, reject extortion.
This past year, I read a book called The Five Families about the history of the Mafia. What a terrible business that is! Even without murder! Extortion, loan-sharking, price-fixing, illegal gambling, blackmail! And it didn’t work out for any of them. John the Baptist was right when he said that there is a return on any investment. They were bucking against the trend. But it seemed to be working out for them – until it wasn’t. They were warned – they should have listened. Some who are out of jail because they turned state’s evidence still aren’t listening. They should listen – before it’s too late.
But to the common people without the cover to steal? To them John says, Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and those who have food must do likewise. John reminds them that having too much and not sharing it is actually a form of stealing. In the Law of Moses, in Leviticus, it talks about not reaping the entire field to the edges and not gathering the fallen grapes. For they belong to those who have no fields in which to grow their own fruit and grain; they belong to the poor.
When we give to Gifts from Afar or do a project for Water Mission or Disaster Response, we do not do so because we can solve all the problems of the world. We also do not do so because we think we can earn God’s favor by it. We do so because God’s new world is coming. The trend cannot be discerned by data. It cannot be accomplished by political or social action. But it can be found in God’s word, and those who get with it will be prepared for the new world of joy and abundance, when all will have enough and none will have too much.
Get with the trend! John says, for we don’t want to be left behind - the one who is mightier than he is coming, the one who will accomplish all of the predictions of the prophets. As we wait for the second coming of Jesus and prepare to celebrate his first, we rejoice in the gift of the Word-made-flesh who brings God’s kingdom near to us and will bring all things to joyous and merciful conclusion.