Advent 3, Year C
Luke 3:7-18. If you'd rather read the text, you can go to the following link: http://divinity.library.vanderbilt.edu/lectionary/
There are times - in any liturgical year - when the readings seem to have a theme. There are other times when one of the readings comes in like a curve on the outside of the plate - where did THAT come from??
The section of Zephaniah that is used has strong, positive language: There will be rejoicing! Fear not! God is with you and turned away your enemies. Gee, that sounds like good news to me!
In Isaiah a similar tone: I will trust and not be afraid. Sing for joy! The God among you is great!
In Philippians another variation on the theme: Rejoice in the Lord always! Do not fear! God is very near!
The curve ball, of course, comes in the discourse of John the Baptist who is, if nothing else, direct and to the point. Do you think you have it made? You think you are exempt from conscience and accountability because God was forever forgiving to your ancestors? In sharp contrast to the earlier readings, John is saying something that was paraphrased by Goldie Hawn in "The First Wife's Club" (I believe): "Be afraid.... be very afraid".
For their sake and for ours, John does not beat around the bush. They ask what they can do to improve and he points to the nuts and bolts of living a good life: if you have enough, share with those who don't; don't steal; don't extort, bear false witness or be a disgruntled employee. Fair enough. Fair.
John went back to the 10 commandments and applied them both specifically and liberally with his devotees: God asks this of you - fulfill your end of the deal and don't expect the reputation of your family to bail you out.
The reading ends with line: 3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. The good news. On the face of it you could scratch your head and wonder what was so "good" in this good news. The good news was that they already had a general blueprint for constructing a good life; they would now have the good fortune of entering into a personal one-on-one relationship with the real Messiah who would baptize each of them, enduing them with faith, strength and power such as had never been seen before.
The good news of John's message remains with us today: take up the invitation to work with Jesus. The merit gained will be the one he grants you through grace, not one passed on by class or denominational privilege. Now THAT is good news.