The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What shall we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
The people recognize John the Baptist as a prophet of God. As such, they come to him seeking advise on how they should live. John’s responses reflect God’s desire for justice, fairness, and care for the poor. Give to those in need. Do not take more from people than what is prescribed. Do not extort or falsely accuse.
John’s charisma and his confidence inspire in those who hear him thoughts that he might be the Messiah, the Christ. (Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek, and Luke is writing to an audience that is mostly Greek). John makes it clear that he is not the Christ. He is not even worthy to untie the thongs of the Messiah’s sandals! What is more, John baptizes with water. His baptism is symbolic of one who desires to turn his or her life around and toward God. But the baptism of the Christ will be a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. It will enact a genuine change in the person’s standing before God, not merely a symbolic one. Fire changes whatever it touches, as does the Holy Spirit. The Christ will gather the wheat and burn the chaff, as every good farmer does.
Let’s be clear here. Jesus did not come to preach peace and love to all. He came to announce the arrival of the kingdom of God, and of Himself as the line of demarcation determining who would enter the kingdom and who would not. Those who follow Jesus, who give their lives to Him, will be saved. Those who reject Jesus will be damned, burned like chaff. This is good news, of course. Except for Jesus, all people would be lost. Because of Jesus, we can be saved. But whether one is saved or not is not based on being a nice guy. It is not based on voting the right way or supporting the right causes. It is not based on the fiver you give to the beggar on the corner, or even the systemic change you’re able to effect because of your exceptional organizing and lobbying skills. Now, none of these things are bad. They are simply not effective for our salvation. Our salvation is based on one thing: Where do we stand with Jesus?
Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah Who is coming is not a prophet preaching peace and love and harmony. He is a Lord Who gathers the wheat and burns the chaff. He is announcing the kingdom of God and making clear that the path to that kingdom runs through Him. When we come before Him, there will be no doubts about where we stand. Come, Lord Jesus!
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.