Do Anglicans Really Take All of the Fun Out of Christmas?
By The Rev. Canon Dr. Darcey Lazerte
I came across a United Church colleague whose comment was “you can count on you Anglicans to make even Christmas miserable”. Now what she was referring to was Advent of course and our unique way of putting Christmas off, for the most part until Christmas Eve. Now I have to admit, she has a point. Today’s gospel, where John the Baptist calls the crowds around him “a brood of vipers” somehow lacks the joy of a “Merry Christmas” greeting. It is a lot different than our service of lessons and carols this evening where we hear the well beloved words of Christmas and sing those beautiful carols of old.
That said, while I appreciate the sentimentality of what my colleague had to say, just looking at the wonder of the season misses the point that the gift of Jesus was serious business. Jesus was born in difficult times and in a difficult situation. The need for a messiah, one who saves a broken world, had been spoken of for generations by the prophets and the fact that God needed to act in such a deliberate way speaks to the brokenness of the human condition and of the shortcomings of our world. So the coming of Jesus is important and speaks to God’s care and concern for humanity. It is from this perspective that we can look at the message of John the Baptist and what he has to say. While John says a lot, I would like to bring three points of his message to us this morning.
First John calls the crowd around him, and in a way us this morning, “a brood of vipers”. Here he is referring to their shortcomings and the sin which is within them. Then he speaks of an ax lying at their roots. Here is saying to them, and we should take note, not to take their place of privilege for granted. Then he concludes by saying their is wheat and chaff and the chaff will burned in an unquenchable fire. He is speaking here of the truth that there is an eternal reality and an eternal consequence of existence. So the message of John the Baptist is that there is sin, to not take our place of privilege for granted and that there is eternal consequence. Not a very Christmassy message but certainly a message which fits with the season of Advent.
In these warning of John we have a sense of what not to do and the crowds seeing this, then asked “what then should we do?” To which John responded, if you have two coats share with one who has none and do so with the food you have. This is a fairly practical answer. It is a living out of the great commandment “to love others as ourselves” and speaks to a practicality of faith. John even gets into difficult situations. The tax collector and the soldiers ask John how they should respond. Now while the military is an honoured tradition in our culture, it was not so in Jesus’ time as they were agents of the foreign oppressors. And, well as for tax collectors, I don’t think anyone then or now really has a soft spot for them but they were particularly scorned in Jesus time because they lined their own pockets as well as taking wealth for the authorities. So to these two professions Jesus first told the tax collectors to only collect what they should and to the soldiers to not extort and to be satisfied with their wages. Now I find it interesting here that Jesus did not speak to the brokenness of the system they were a part of. This is something we should take note of, the systems of the world that we live in are often broken. There are times when we are called to speak against the injustice of this. However, John recognizes that neither the tax collector or the soldier will be able to fix what is broken around them so he calls them to act ethically within what is a broken system.
Then finally the passage ends with the words “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people”. (Luke 3: 20) These warnings, this guidance that John gave were good news. Good news because they recognize what is wrong in our world and in our lives and good news because he spoke of the hope and the healing which God offers in the gift of Jesus. So yes, my United Church colleague has a point, we do tend to take some of the fun out of Christmas. However, one cannot know the true meaning of Christmas unless one knows why and how God has acted.
Thanks be to God. Amen.