What Then Shall We Do?
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 3:1–3:20
The Second Sunday in Advent
December 8-9, 2012
“What Then Shall We Do?”
On this Second Sunday in Advent, we come face-to-face with that fiery and forceful preacher of repentance so reminiscent of the prophets of old. Today we meet John the Baptist, and as with most controversial figures, people either loved him or hated him. One thing was for certain, though: people could not ignore him. John was an “in your face” preacher, the first prophet in Israel in nearly 400 years, and the bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Unlike Matthew and Mark’s accounts of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12 and Mark 1:1-8), Luke’s account does not reference John’s rough clothing of camel’s hair or his diet of locusts and wild honey that linked him to those prophets of old who were often desert hermits and only emerged at the Lord’s bidding to speak what the Lord called them to speak. Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, contains John’s exhortation to the crowds who came out to see and hear him. In response to John’s fiery and forceful preaching of repentance, the people asked the question: “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10). And it is that question that forms the theme for this message on this Second Sunday in Advent: “What Then Shall We Do?” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
Today’s Old Testament lesson (Malachi 3:1-7b) points forward in time to that promised messenger who “will prepare the way before me” (Malachi 3:1), says the Lord. This prophecy finds its fulfillment in John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who came as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Luke 3:4, quoting Isaiah 40:3-5). This was the ministry to which the Lord God called John, calling his chosen people to repentance, to holiness of living, before the coming of the Lord. It is significant to note the parallel between the Old Testament and Gospel lessons. The reasons for the Lord’s judgment of his people are given in clear and understandable terms: “I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:5). In response to God’s stinging indictment through his prophet, Malachi, the people ought to have been cut to the heart and asked that question: “What then shall we do?”
John’s message to the people of his day was just as stinging and biting. He called those who came to him a “brood of vipers” (Luke 3:7) – a bunch of snakes! I am thinking John didn’t get too many invitations to do pulpit supply at area synagogues. He also told the people that they had a false spiritual security in relying on their proud ancestry linking them to Abraham. Hmm… could the same thing be said of us Lutherans? “We have Martin Luther as our father.” “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8) – and Luther! Cut to the heart with the idols on which we rely laid bare, what then shall we do?
The message of Advent is one of repentance – turning from the evil in our lives and returning to God our Maker and Redeemer. Repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit as we are convicted of the evil we have done and the good we have failed to do – sins of commission and sins of omission. What then shall we do? We turn to that One whose way John prepared – the One mightier than John, the strap of whose sandals neither John nor we are worthy to untie, the One who has baptized us with the Holy Spirit and fire. This is Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, our Savior and Lord. He is the promised and anointed Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the One who makes all things new, who by his suffering and death has destroyed the power of sin and death, and has restored us to a right relationship with God our Father. All this is by grace alone. There is nothing we can do or have done that merits or deserves God’s saving grace. It comes to us as gift of God, received through faith in Jesus.
And now, what then shall we do? John’s message to the people of his day is just as relevant and spot-on for us today: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). And this is not just a holiday, feel-good sentiment at Christmas. This is the command of the Lord at all times for his redeemed people, purchased with the blood of his only Son: that we do good to all people, especially to those who are in need in the Name of our Advent Lord Jesus. The tax collectors and soldiers asked that same question: “What then shall we do?” John’s response to them speaks to us today: Be honest in your business dealings, and don’t cheat people. Don’t extort money by threats or false accusation. Be satisfied with your wages (see Luke 3:13-14). The grace of God that moved him to send his Son Jesus leads us to a change of heart and mind; to transformed lives that are no longer self-absorbed and me-centered, but in response to Christ’s redeeming love now look to the needs of others. Isn’t that what we are endeavoring to do through the Koinonia Christmas baskets and the gifts for the Angel Tree: to help those in need? Isn’t this the purpose behind feeding the homeless at Carpenter’s Shelter next Sunday? This is what Paul is talking about in today’s Epistle lesson (Philippians 1:2-11), when he writes: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).
What then shall we do? “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). On this Second Sunday in Advent, called to repentance and holiness of life until the coming of the Lord, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:7). Amen.