Third Sunday of Advent C: December 12, 2021
Luke 3: 10-18
By Rev. John Tran
The reading from the prophet Zephaniah begins: “Shout joyfully, O daughter of Zion! Sing
joyfully, O Israel.” And St. Paul begins: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again:
Rejoice!” This stands in stark contrast to John the Baptists: “His winnowing fan is in his
hand to clear his threshing floor...the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
This contrast between the phrase “Good News” and the warnings that John the Baptist
gives might make us stop and think. Why were these people crowding around John to
listen to him? To be baptized? His message does not seem, at first, to be particularly
Patricia Greenlee tells a story about her son who is a West Virginia state trooper. Once he
stopped a woman for going 15 miles an hour over the speed limit. After he handed her a
ticket, she asked him, “Don’t you give out warnings?” “Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “They’re all
up and down the road. They say, ‘Speed Limit 55.’” People have a tendency to disregard
the warning signs, don’t they? Sometimes that has dire consequences. John's listeners had
many warning signs throughout their history with God from the prophets to be prepared.
Today’s Gospel presents John the Baptist warning his Jewish listeners with prophetic
courage of their need for repentance and conversion.
John is telling the people to give away what belongs to them and to humbly accept a just
compensation for their work. It does not seem that these types of exhortations would be
popular with any crowd. Yet the people continue to stream to him.
John must have been filled with holy zeal so deep that his words carried immense
authority. Some thought he was the Messiah. In fact, John’s message of Good News is so
profound that it demands deep thought.
But, really, John’s message is one of hope. The people coming to John were not those who
were satisfied with their lives; many of them were seeking God in difficult situations. Both of
the groups singled out by John - the tax collectors and the soldiers - were the most
despised by their own people. They were considered unredeemable sinners. Both were
working for what many considered foreign powers. Both the tax collectors and the soldiers
were working either for Rome, or for the hated Jewish kings, the Herods. They had placed
themselves outside the believing community and were beyond any salvation.
But these are the very ones who come to John to be baptized, and to ask how they can live
justly. So this is the gospel of hope: if even dishonest tax collectors and traitorous soldiers
may be forgiven and live justly, what hope there is for us! What hope for us in the most
difficult situations we might encounter. Yes, John makes it clear that he is not the Messiah,
but only preparing the way for him. And yet, their message is the same. Even in our most
confusing and mixed up life situations, in Jesus there is always a way to convert ourselves
to bring into existence his Kingdom of Hope. And there is great joy and rejoicing in this.
John’s message is one we all have been waiting for: With the Lord’s grace and strength, we
can begin to life rightly.