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LK 3: 7-18
3rd Sunday of Advent

'You brood of vipers' may not go down too well as a sermon opener today. Not in many churches. Except one where everyone sees everyone else as the vipers under attack! I recently sat through (most reluctantly!) a 'coded' version of the above. Most had no idea whom the preacher was taking aim at (I wouldn't have, either, if I didn't have inside information). It went right over the heads of those it was intended to shame into repentance. Somewhere in all this the Gospel was obscured if not lost.

The only descent from Abraham that counts is a spiritual one. All other family trees are flawed - as indeed was Abraham's. Yet, having 'Abraham's faith' not only makes us righteous in God's eyes, but makes a lot of skeletons in a lot of our family cupboards irrelevant. Such faith also helps us unlock the skeletons inside the cupboard of our own self.

Though LK sets JB squarely in the following of the Second Isaiah, John's replies to those who later question him ring out loud with MIC (6:8), as close to Jesus' teaching as the Hebrew Bible ever gets. Although, sadly, JB seems to end his ministry on a doubting note, here, at the beginning, steeped in the wisdom of the Prophets (& in so doing becoming one himself) he strikes a key-note of the Gospel which will come in the Person of his successor.

Often people ask in one way or another (not always clearly): "What do you want us to do about what you've just preached?" It's a right & proper question. One to which we preachers don't always have an adequate answer. You probably know the old story about the curate who, after preaching his first sermon, asked his rector, "Well, will it do?" "Will it do what?" came the rector's quite proper reply! None of us would have been surprised if JB's words to the crowds, the tax-collectors, & the soldiers (whose soldiers were they, I wonder?) had appeared a bit further into the Gospel as Jesus' own words to us. However we think of JB, he deserves credit for taking on board, & maintaining, the thrust, the inter-connectedness of God's Word by his servants the prophets.

It's often our failure to identify & insist upon that connectedness that leaves a lot of folk divorced from faith, church, & God. Because they don't see us 'putting our money where our mouth is'. Don't see us acting how God says we ought to be acting. And, lest we become too uppity, many 'outsiders' have at least a residual idea of what God wants of us all, if not a more godly one than we 'insiders' have!

I guess we're all familiar with some version of the strains if not divisions between 'believing' churches & 'doing' churches. There ain't no such animal as a believing church that's not a doing church, & vice-versa! JAS 2:18 sums it up nicely.

One of the biggest differences in the JB scenario & ours is that then, 'people were filled with expectation' regarding God's salvation in the Person of a Messiah. Today I sense little expectation, & some of the expectations that are around are far from healthy (= life-giving = salvation). How can we raise people's expectations of God, of God-in-us? An LCD (Lowest Common Denomination) isn't much use to anyone. The questions posed to JB by people in general, those in public office, those who have physical power are as valid, & as pressing, as ever in a world being increasingly driven by terrorism & a response to it that bears too mahy hallmarks of terorism itself! So, JB's replies to those of old are valid & pressing still today. So is the same kind of Good News Jesus develops still further by embodying it. At what cost! How can I connect with this Saviour & his Gospel? Who / what can help me want to connect?