A reading from Psalm 85. Please respond with the words in bold. For the director of music of the
Sons of Kora, a Psalm you Lord showed favor to your land. You restored the fortunes of Jacob. You
set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger. Will you be angry with us forever? Will you
prolong your anger through all generations? Show us your unfailing love, Lord Salvation. I will listen to
what God the Lord says. He promises peace to his people, his faithful servants. But let them not turn
Love and faithfulness meet together faithfulness Springs forth from the Earth, and righteousness
looks down from heaven. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. Please
stand for the reading of the gospel. A reading from the Gospel of Luke three, seven through 20. He
said, therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, you brood of Vipers who warned
you to flee from the wrath to come bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to
yourselves, we have Abraham as our Father, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up
children for Abraham.
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore that does not bear good fruit is
cut down and thrown into the fire. And the crowds asked him, what then shall we do? He answered
them. Whoever has two tunics is to share them with him who has none, and whoever has food is to
do likewise. Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and he said to him, Teacher, what shall we do?
He said to them, collect no more than you are authorized to do.
Soldiers also asked him, and we, what shall we do? And he said to them, do not extort money from
anyone by threats or false accusation, and be content with your wages, as the people were in
expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John whether he might be the Christ.
John answered them saying, I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming the
strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. 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 barn. But
the chaff you will burn with unquenchable fire. So with many other exhortations, he preached the good
news to the people. But Harris, the Tetrarch who had been reproved by him for Herodius, his brother’s
wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done. Added this to them all that he locked up John in
Kids is time for kids alive. I know you’re prepping for the pageant, and Miss Kelly here is going to
actually lead you in some of the songs for the pageant and everything over there in that other room.
So let’s pray for the kids as they go. Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for our young people. We
ask that you would bless them and lead them, Lord. For those who are at home who are at home sick
today we ask your blessing on them and that you would bring healing to them.
Bring them back to us soon. But for all our children, Lord, we give you thanks and ask that they grow
strong in you in Jesus name. Amen. All right. God bless you, kids. All right. Let’s pray, Lord Jesus,
send your Holy Spirit in your fire. Let your word speak to us in power. I love what it says in Psalm 85
that righteousness and peace kiss each other and God, whatever all of that means, Lord, let it happen
in our midst. Let your righteousness and your peace dwell among us and shape and form us by your
word in Jesus name.
We pray. Amen I just love Advent. I love this time of preparation for waiting for the Lord to come. I
love that when Stella Jane just said a few prayers. You know, this young child who is being prepared
in her life to be a person who prepares the way of the Lord. What does that mean? To long for His
coming, to prepare away in our hearts, to prepare away in our lives for the Lord? You think about what
John the Baptist said at the end of the reading, as people were wondering, Is John the Messiah?
John said, I baptize you with water, but one is coming. The thongs of whose sandals. I am not worthy
to stoop down and untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. I’m not worthy to stoop
down and untie His sandals. I mean, for us that phrase, we probably don’t exactly know what it means,
but the people of John’s Day knew exactly what it meant. The only people who would untie the thongs
of the sandals of someone else were slaves. And it was considered so demeaning that a Hebrew who
had sold themselves into slavery into indentured servitude was exempt from untying their master
It was considered beneath the dignity of the people of God. And so they were exempt. That could only
be required of a slave from some foreign land. And John is saying, I don’t even measure up with them.
I’m not even worthy to untie His shoelaces. Do you ever think about that when you come to worship?
Like, if Jesus were to show up here in person in glory, what we would do, we’d be on our faces. We
would be undone. We’d be filled with such awe and wonder and humility, a lack of selfconfidence,
We wouldn’t be standing and saying, hey, Jesus Highfive Jesus and he might lift us up, but we’d be on
our faces. What does it mean to prepare for that kind of King? And that kind of Lord? This season is a
season of preparation. And even in the secularized traditions where we put a Christmas tree in our
house and we light up the house and we play Christmas carols. All of it is for what? If you’re not a
believer, it’s to get ready for Christmas. It’s just to enter into that most wonderful time of the year.
Right? It’s to enter into it fully. So that on the day when the kids come running down and they open up
the presents, all the preparations, all the food, all the lights, all the music. Everything builds up to this
memorable moment that people long for and look for all year long. That’s the highlights of many of
our childhoods. We prepare well in this season. As Christians, we prepare as well our hearts, knowing
that these songs, these carols, these lights are all to remind us that the true light that gives light to
everyone came into the world.
This is Jesus, and he’s coming again. When you care about something, you prepare for it. You prepare
for a test, you prepare for a job, you prepare for visitors, whatever it is, you spend the time. And in the
same way we’re to look at our lives as believers and say, how am I preparing? How am I getting ready
for the coming of the Lord? Well, John the Baptist, who prepared the way for people the first time,
says he came into the desert and said, Prepare the way.
Every mountain will be made low. All valleys will be raised up, and all people will see the Salvation of
the Lord. John the Baptist instructed those people that day what it means to prepare for the Lord. And
his words actually apply to us today when we think, all right, how do I prepare for a second coming?
So if you want to look with me in Luke chapter three, we’re going to see that John’s got one word in
mind, but it’s a word with implications. The word is repent.
Without repentance. You cannot prepare for the Lord. And so he begins in addressing the crowd in a
very interesting way. If you think about what was just written in verse eight or verse six rather. And all
people will see God’s Salvation. It’s such a positive statement, like, God’s Salvation is going to be
made known to everybody. And then John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by them. So
far, everything is good, right? The crowds are getting it. They’re saying, Here comes this Prophet.
We need to go be baptized by Him. And so if John was like me, he’d be like, Whoa, look at these
crowds. This is awesome. You’ve come to be baptized right on. That’s exactly the right thing to do.
What does John do? You brood of Vipers who warns you to flee from the coming wrath, produce fruit
in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our Father,
for I tell you that out of these stones, God can raise up children for Abraham.
The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut
down and thrown into the fire. It calls them Vipers. Snakes not a great way to win friends and
influence people. But that’s what he does. And there’s something inside of us that rebels against that.
And he immediately goes to that. For the people of Judea and Jerusalem, those who are coming out
to be baptized, he says, don’t presume to say we have Abraham as our father.
Don’t look to your religious heritage or your cultural heritage. Don’t look to your moniker as God’s
chosen people, your snakes. And the thing is, we do exactly the same thing. We like to look at our
religion. We like to look at our practices. We like to say, Well, we come to Church pretty regularly or we
give and we tithe or any number of things we’ve been baptized was baptized at the age of seven or
ten or as a baby or as a professing adult. And we can quickly not hear the word that is necessary for
You Vipers. We can deny that there’s something snake like in us. We can look at the world, right? And
what does the world do if they’re not relying on religion to justify themselves like we might? What do
they say? Well, you know, I’m basically a good person. Have you ever wondered why people always
use that word? Basically, they’ll just say, I’m a good person. It’s chronicled. It’s a fact. I’m basically a
good person because somehow they know, right? Basically. But there are those times, right. When I
get beyond the basics.
There are those times when I cut the corners. There are times when I’m not so kind as I ought to be to
the people around me. There are those times when I withhold what I could do for somebody because I
just don’t care to do it right. There are those times when I lie or I cheat or I steal. There’s something
snake like in all of us. And so we have to say, if we think we’re a good person, that we’re basically a
good person because we know that snakelike character comes out every now and then and it comes
out because it’s in there and you cannot repent unless you know that unless you can receive the tough
word that John has, you brewed of Vipers produce fruit, and actually it’s fruits.
It’s actually a plural word there that is used produce fruits. In keeping with repentance, John wants the
people to understand if you’re really repenting, there’s going to be an ongoing change of character in
your life and an ongoing change of the fruit produced by that character, the fruits that come out and
the crowd, to their credit. Listens, what should we do then? The crowd asked. Well, John answered,
anyone who has two shirts should stare with the one who has none. Anyone who has food should do
In those days, you didn’t have a lot of clothes. The clothes you had were handmade well constructed.
They were made to last. You might have one main tunic. If you had a backup, you usually were a
person of some means. If you have more than one backup, you definitely were a person of some
means. And Jesus is saying, if you’re one of those people share with somebody who doesn’t even
have the means for one. Whoa. Are you serious? Lord cut my wealth in half. At least the things that
I’m wearing, right.
And we do the same thing when we see opportunities to care for others, to care for the poor. There’s
something inside of us. Well, I don’t know if I can go that far. John says, Go there. It’s the fruit of true
repentance. It’s kind of unremarkable, too. If you think about it right. He doesn’t say, come out into the
desert with me. He doesn’t say, become hermit and fast all the time and everything. Now people say,
what should we do? He said, give to the poor, care for your neighbor.
Churches sometimes make headlines when there’s a scandal. Do you know when we don’t make
headlines? We have a coat drive. Sally comes to us from Ethan Allen and says they’re doing a coat
drive. Can we participate in? And so I said, sure, and we put it in our bulletin. We put in the
announcements, and I’ve been blown away by the amount of response by people just saying, yeah, we
want to be generous like that. We want to give of our extras. Sometimes that’s easy to do.
And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you look in the closet and you see something that’s kind of an old
favorite, and you get the sense of the Lord saying, Give it. Well, churches throughout the course of
time and the course of history do that for the poor. Over and over again. They give I could name
Ministry after Ministry after Ministry, Church after Church after Church. In all the selfless ways they
give almost without even noticing it. That’s the fruit of true repentance. I’ll never forget. One time a
refugee family had basically just landed from Myanmar, where people are the Church.
There is incredibly persecuted. All kinds of people are persecuted there. And we went out to see them
through the work of a Christian Ministry. And I remember it was cold. It was in Raleigh. Snow was
coming down, and they were being taken to a Walmart to get clothes. And they were wearing sandals.
Some of the kids were in flip flops. They were wearing the thinnest of clothes. And they also had this
look on their face, like, Where are we? And I remember the sense of the spirit of God meeting them
and when they were all outfitted, the joy on their faces.
But that wasn’t the end. For weeks and days after that, there were different people that came around
them. And that happens all the time through the Church produce fruits. In keeping with repentance,
John says, be the people of God that he’s called you to be have an overflowing generosity that comes
from being people willing to say, yeah, I’m kind of snakelike. I’d rather keep it for myself. I’d rather not
know about the troubles and things going on in the world. Well, even the tax collectors, verse twelve, it
says, came to be baptized.
Now the tax collectors in those days, and the ones that are being talked about here were paid
salaries. The chief tax collectors would actually pay for the right to be a tax collector. Because if they
outbid the others and they got the job, they would then hire a bunch of tax collectors under them and
they would make a boatload of money. Well, their tax collectors were well paid. They had to be
because to become a tax collector, you basically had to turn your back on the Jewish people.
You knew that to go into that profession, you would gain some wealth. But you would also gain some
enemies. So it had to be worth it. So those kind of tax collectors were coming out to John, and they
say, what about us? What should we do? Resign? John says, no, he doesn’t. He realizes tax collecting
is a reality. It’s going to happen. So why not have it happen through the hands of a Godly repentant
people? So he tells them, don’t collect any more than you are required to be a people of basic fairness
who understand that the job that you’re doing needs to be done.
I mean, the Romans aren’t going to just suddenly fold up tents and go away needs to be done. But do
it in such a way that it inflicts minimal damage to the people around you provides you with a living.
But so often in life, we look at the various ways that we can get ahead. And too often in life, those
ways don’t take into account others around us. And so you get people in companies who find that
they can financially advance while keeping their employees down and not giving them the raises and
things that they need.
You name it, John says, don’t do that. Be a people, a Church, a business person, a leader in the
community, whatever it is that is constantly thinking of the good of all, not just yourself. Be fair. Well,
in the group was another group of people who were not paid so well. Soldiers, soldiers actually lived
on a pretty subsistent type of salary. Basically, they got room and board. And so for them, they often
would use their position. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a Third World country and been pulled
over the moment that happens, you know that there’s going to be some money involved, that they’re
going to want some kind of kickback.
I’ve experienced that before. I spirited at the border crossing into Mexico, taking a mission group and
they had us over a barrel. It’s like either you pay the bribe or you go home and I paid it. And I
remember I told my wife as we drove through. I said, I will never do that again. I felt such anger and
injustice. I’ll never do that again. Well, soldiers were doing that kind of thing in those days, and John
said, don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely a means for that extortion.
Be content with your pay now. We might not be in positions to extort from others. We might be, I don’t
know. But that whole idea of contentment really plays into our lives in a big way. If you’re not content,
it’s hard to be generous. If you’re not content, it’s easier to cheat that moment when you look at
something on your taxes that could easily be overlooked by the IRS or whoever. And you could easily
not report something. You go to a store and you’re given more change than was required, right?
There’s always different opportunities. And if you’re not content, you’re vulnerable to those
temptations, just like those soldiers were. And so I was saying, don’t be that way. Produce fruit in
keeping with repentance. Understand the one who is coming, how great and glorious he is the one
who is your provision, the one who’s everything and that fruit will come. So it really struck me as I read
all of this. It really is unremarkable stuff. It’s literally about letting the Lord change you in ways that the
world won’t always notice.
But that actually should become kind of second nature to us. And in some ways, I think John or Luke
rather, is trying to make this point. As he begins this chapter in chapter three, he begins by saying, in
the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea Harrod
Tetrark of Galilee, his brother Philip Tetrach of Vicheria and Trachanitis and Licenius Tetrark of
Abilene. During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of
Zechariah in the wilderness.
Tiberius Caesar had inherited his position from Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus had been the one
who issued in many years before what was known in the ancient world as the Poxromana. It was the
Roman rule that had brought a peace throughout the Roman Empire, a piece that was gained by force
but actually was welcomed by many people in the Empire because the kind of leaders they had before
are not the kind of leaders you want to be under. And underneath Rome, they had to Marvel as
highways were built, as industry flourished and prosperity became more widespread.
And the world in many ways seemed to get better. And so Luke is saying that’s who’s in charge right
now and the Tetrarchy in Israel is designed to cooperate with that power. Tetrarchi has four rulers.
One of them had really messed up, and that’s why Pontius Pilate ends up being the governor of
Judea. And their whole job was to cooperate with the Roman authorities and the Roman rule and the
Roman structures. And anybody who didn’t really was taking their life into their hands and really was
taking their economy into their hands.
And Anus and Caiaphas, the high priests are thrown into that mix. And it’s in the midst of that that the
word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John was a priest’s son who had
walked away from the Levitical priesthood to carry out the prophetic Ministry. And he strips down to
camel’s hair clothing. And it says Luke is wanting to say, people of God, there’s got to be a difference
between you and the world, no matter how effective, how powerful, how organized they are.
The simple goodness of God comes through a simple people of God who do the simple works of God,
who repent with humility, who exhibit generosity to the poor, fairness in their dealings and are content
with where God has them in life. Is that easy? Well, today or yesterday, rather, Susan and I went to see
a house and we’ve been looking for a house. It’s really hard to find a house. We think we’ve found the
house. We want to make an offer today. We don’t know if that offer is going to be accepted because
there’s a lot of competition out there.
It’s so hard to be content, right? In the midst of wanting a place that we can call home, wanting it to
have just the right accoutrements and everything. Woke up at 01:00 in the morning. I was up for about
an hour, just kind of thinking and praying, Lord, Lord, I don’t need to be worried. I need to be content.
I’m giving it to you. It was not easy. None of this is. But how do we get there in a way that repentance,
as Martin Luther said, becomes a way of life.
Repentance becomes a way of life. Well, the final thing that John said is I baptize you with water, but
one is coming more powerful than I the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will
baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus came to put his
very life into us. Right? That’s what we get to rejoice in Christmas as we await as we celebrate His
first coming. And as we await His second coming, the Jesus Christ has poured out His Spirit into our
lives, to actually bear witness to us, to be that meter inside of us.
When we start leaning towards the snake like right that leads us to repentance, Lord, forgive and lead
me in your ways. Jesus died to make that possible so that his very life might be implanted in us. We
let the candle of joy. Today there’s the candle of hope and the candle of love. And then the fourth
candle is the candle of peace. And on Christmas Eve will light the Christ candle, the true light that
gives light to all these other things. Love, joy, peace, hope that which Wells up inside of us.
If we repent, if we simply turn to the Lord and say, not by my power, Lord, but by yours, and that’s what
he loves to do, it’s worth waiting for. It’s worth being prepared for. Amen father, we ask that you would
prepare us as a people in our daily habits. You would make us so aware of snake like motives in our
own hearts. Make us quick to repent when we act like snakes and turn us more and more to the
practical ways of your Kingdom, of loving others, of living with contentment, of being fair, of more and
Reflecting Jesus in this world for it’s in his name. We’ve pray. Amen.