Peace be with you!
Darkness has entered our children and has left its mark. Children have come home silent and despaired – evil has taken away their innocence. Parents have rushed home to give hugs and kisses to their children. Other parents wail laments for their children who will never come home again – let alone wake Christmas morning to open their gifts. Words escape us. Nothing we say will bring back the sense of safety for our children or our own sense of safety. Nothing we say will give the children back their innocence, because they face Satan today. Nothing we say…
Where do we go from here? How do we share the joy of Christmas in such a dark world? The joy in our children is replaced by horrid images that most adults have yet to see. Their innocence was taken from them. Joy is the last thing on our minds.
People are making the pilgrim to the wilderness to see John the Baptist. Others have gone and heard him preach and have told others to go experience his teachings. In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist seems to be taking questions from the crowd. John the Baptist has started talking about the end of the world – how God will cut away the bad oats from the good ones. The crowd asks, “What then should we do?” (Luke 3:10 NRSV). John the Baptist puts it in simply: share, be fair, and be honest.
The wilderness has come to us as we try to put things back together, yet nothing will bring back the twenty children that were killed. Their parents’ joy was stolen from them in that fatal act. So let’s share and be fair and honest about our feelings. Friday was a dark day worldwide. The twenty children died too soon. The children left behind fear going back to school tomorrow, because their sense of safety is lost in the darkness. The children’s joy and innocent was stolen. Bitterness has replaced the joy of the season, and it is cruel. We are wondering in the wilderness.
The tax collectors ask, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:12c, 14b NRSV). You have to understand the tax collectors and the soldiers are daily reminders to the Jews of the Roman Empire. These individuals understand they are view as a threat to the common people. To the tax collectors, John the Baptist says to only collect what the Roman officials tell them too (Luke 3:13). We know from Mark and Matthew Jesus told his disciples to give to Caesar what is due to him and to give to God what belongs to him (Mark 12:17; Matthew 22:21). It is important to be fair by only taking from the people what is owed in order to ensure they can still provide for their family and help friends in need.
Even if you are not a parent, your heart is breaking. No one is asking us to pay higher taxes today, but friends and family need our time and energy. John the Baptist calls us to help those in need. Although words may not come easily, your presence is what is needed during this time of despair. One lady in a Cerebral Palsy support group has a daughter that attends Sandy Hook Elementary. Throughout the weekend, I have been passing along helpful links, like A Prayer of Lament, and hat to say to your children. I sent her anything that would give her words in amidst so many questions and so much fear. With no children of my own, my detachment from the tragedy – not by much – allowed me the ability to gather resources to share with the mother and others. I became rich in my time and energy, and I felt called to give to those in need.
The soldiers ask, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:12c, 14b NRSV). To the soldiers, John the Baptist says, “Do not extort from anyone by threats or false accusations, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:14 NRSV). The soldiers are to be fair to the people – do not punish them anymore than necessary and to protect them from false accusations whether than waving around their power to get what they want.
In amidst the heartache, people want someone to be held responsible for the twenty children killed. Some people are calling for stronger gun control laws; others want every teacher to have a gun in the classroom; others say it would have happened no matter what. There is no simple answer. No matter what changes are made in the future those eleven children are not coming home.
What should we do now? Parents who have lost their children need our support more than anything. They do not need answers to all their questions or solutions. They do not need to hear God needed more angels. They need hugs, a listening ear, comfort and compassion, love and support, and someone to wipe their tears. These parents have tons of raw emotions. Making room for their wailing laments is our job.
John the Baptist and Jesus both understand the roles of the tax collectors and the soldiers. Under the Roman Empire, the tax collectors and the soldiers are able to be liaisons between the people and the government officials. The empire has a role in the people’s lives. John the Baptist is instructing the tax collectors and the soldiers to be fair and considerate to the common people.
Who are the parents’ liaisons? Who is going to listen to their fears? Who is going to prevent this from ever happening again? Where will survivors go from here? Who is going to lift up these children? John the Baptist understands the tax collectors and the soldiers have important roles in our lives. The soldiers are commission to keep us safe, even today. Soldiers come in different forms – police, firemen, teachers, counselors, mediators, judgers, lawyers, parents, and many more. These are the people who are commission to keep us safe. Our soldiers were attacked Friday by the evil, and now we need to lift them up in prayer and to stand by them as they weep. We need to be their soldiers in this time. To borrow a phrase from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: We are to be God’s hands and feet to those who need consoling.
The crowd starts to question if John the Baptist is the Messiah that they are waiting for (Luke 3:15). John the Baptist shoots the crowd down by stating that one more powerful than him will come. “John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’” (Luke 3:16-17; NRSV). The Messiah will be more powerful than John the Baptist; he will baptize with the Holy Spirit, not just water; he will separate those who believe from the darkness and cut away those who follow Satan; he will destroy the world and lift up those who believe.
As we reflect on the events of this past Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary, we find ourselves in the wilderness wondering when the Messiah will return to overcome Satan once and for all. Where do we go from here? How do we share the joy of Christmas in such a dark world? I invite you to light a candle in your window. Let it be a sign that the Holy Spirit burns within us, and an invitation for others to welcome Jesus Christ into their hearts. That is the joy baptism gives us, even in this dark world!
Come, Lord Jesus, Come!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for sending John the Baptist to point us towards Jesus Christ, your son. Guide us in the wilderness as we look for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Shine your light from within us and let others be drawn to your magnificent light. Thank you for sending John the Baptist to set a fire in our hearts. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. What is John the Baptist calling you to do?
2. Write a press release about Jesus Christ and salvation. What would John the Baptist’s Twitter feed look like announcing the coming Messiah?
3. In the wilderness, what should we do?