Third Saturday of Advent, Luke 3.7-18
When people get their hopes up about a Messiah coming, their hope is that this person of deliverance will rescue them from all their perceived problems and lead them into a future of joy and prosperity. What we long for is someone to condemn our enemies and applaud our friends.
When John the Baptizer started telling people in the desert of Judea that Messiah was almost there, he told them that it was time to change, time to reform, time to live out righteousness. And he used the symbolism of baptism to serve as an ending to people’s existing lives of self-centered living and the beginning of a new life lived in harmony with the purposes of God. But what John saw happening was that many people had no interest in actually changing their ways. They just wanted to make sure they were on the right side of the Messiah, whether it was John (as many thought) or someone after John. Their acts of baptism were more political calculation than a change of living.
John then says that what the Messiah is going to be about is undermining powers and systems that contribute to a divided world where some people are in and some are out, where some have and some have not, where some are saved and some are lost, and where justice comes for some while injustice reigns for others. So he tells those who were listening to him that if they want to be “saved” by the Messiah, that they must recognize what the salvation is that he is bringing and desire that he will save them from these divisive attitudes and behaviors and join him in undermining these systems of separation in the world. Heaven isn’t about walking on streets of gold, having lions as housepets, and being able to fly around galaxies–those are the frills. The heart of the kingdom of heaven is the reign of God’s righteousness, justice, love, mercy and peace. The kingdom of God can be in a swamp or a desert just as easily as in a idyllic garden. God’s kingdom is simply where His righteousness reigns.
In fact, John says, when the Messiah comes the first time, he’s going to blow you away–literally. He uses the imagery of the harvest where a farmer flings the treaded wheat up into the air with a special implement, a winnowing fork, where the afternoon winds blow away all the junk and leave just the pure grain. John says that the Messiah is coming to blow away all the things in our lives and in our world that have nothing to do with his purposes. This is what is meant by a baptism (immersion) in the holy spirit.
As we live in the waiting time–knowing that Jesus has come and is coming again–God calls us to live expectant lives, lives that increasingly understand God’s righteousness and lives it out in our world. Your salvation isn’t about getting baptized, ascribing to a set of dogmatic principles or aligning youself with the correct religion. Complete, total salvation is coming. It’s already underway in the world and in our lives. The raspy, stern voice of John the Baptizer simply reminds us to keep letting Jesus toss us up into the wind.