John the Baptist seems to have quite the way with words.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Luke 3:7

First, let me say that I am glad that this gospel lesson was not one of the firsts that I had to preach on here at Trinity. You need to build up a little authority and trust with the people around you before you go and start calling them a brood of vipers. John seems to have built that up. He is a good preacher and those that follow him respect his teachings.

This Third Sunday of Advent we get a few more details about John in addition to what we learned last week. Our preparations are now well underway and honestly it is beginning to feel like the Christmas Season, minus the snow of course. As we continue to wait in this Advent season we are beginning to be filled with expectations.

Expectations do have a positive affect on our lives. They can also pull us in the wrong direction as well. First, we feel as though expectations are placed upon us by others. Those expectations can be real or unreal. Maybe there are certain ways that we must act or look. Maybe there are certain possessions that we must obtain or have to be considered part of our society or culture. The idea of keeping up with the neighbors, insuring that we at least match or having something of more value or greater quality seems to be a part of our society. We want to keep up with the Jones! All you have to do is watch the advertisements on television some evening and many will reflect these expectations.

Second, part of the expectations that surround us are of our own doing. We create them in our own minds and have this image of what we want and what others may want of us. Often times we can set high expectations for ourselves and then feel let down when we fail to meet up to those expectations. We also may come to expect certain things just because of who we are or our position within society.

John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel this morning speaks to some of these expectations and also builds some up for the people that are following him. The first expectation that John lays out for us is to bear fruit worthy of repentance. John does not want the people to just expect something because they are the ancestors of Abraham. Just because your ancestry contains a cornerstone of the faith does not mean you can do whatever you want. You are encouraged to bear fruit in your words and actions. We must also still seek repentance for those things that we do that are not acceptable in the eyes of God. John then becomes the teacher as the crowds ask him, “What then should we do?”His prescriptions to each of the groups that ask are ones of love for them as well as for their neighbors:

  • Whoever has two coats and extra food must share with those that have none.
  • Take no more money than what is prescribed for you.
  • Do not extort money from anyone through threats or false accusations. Be satisfied with what you have.

This filled people with expectation. There was even some murmuring that John may be the Messiah. He is quick to make sure that he does not lead them down this path. He proclaims that one who is greater than him is yet to come. An expectation of the hope and promise to come.

As I examine the prescriptions that John has given to his followers I am reminded of a book I recently finished by Joshua Becker, Simplify. What if we were to disregard the expectations placed upon us to have this and to have that? What if we changed our own expectations? Becker states seven steps to starting to simplify your household and in turn having a positive impact on your life, because in reality you are able to do more! Those seven steps are:

  • Be convinced. Be convinced that this is the step that you want to take and want to work on simplifying.
  • Make it work for you. What areas in your life need to be simplified the most.
  • Jump right in. Do not hold back. Pick an area and jump right in.
  • Stop the trend. Stop the buying habits that are leading to clutter in your lives. If possible remove yourself from the temptation.
  • Persevere. It is not going to be easy.
  • Share the joy. As you start to simplify, it will bring joy into your life because there will not be as much to worry about. Share it!
  • Simplify Everywhere!

The human expectations that we place upon ourselves are not the expectations of God. I am starting to become more convinced that the expectations that God has for us are truly simple and probably more reflective in the steps that Becker has laid out in his book. As I read of and from some of our early Christian sisters and brothers, it is truly a simple way of living that they are drawn. St. Francis renounced the wealth of his family and listened to God’s calling. St. Lucia, whom we commemorate today, did the same in the third century as she vowed to give her inheritance to the poor and was eventually killed because of it.

May we be filled with expectations this Advent season. Not the expectations that are placed upon us by greater society. The expectations that we find in John’s proclamation. The expectation of hope and promise that comes to us in the Gospel. John is just the beginning, for someone greater is yet to come. As we continue to prepare this Advent season and lay in wait for Jesus Christ, may our expectations turn toward the manger, and the hope and promise of light that only Jesus can bring into the world and vanish the darkness. It is in this expectation that each and every one of us are able to give witness to the in-breaking of God in our day and age.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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