Kevin Williams is the Director of Welcome at Westfield Church, UCC, in Killingly, CT.
Scripture: Luke 3:7-18 (NRSV)
John said 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 worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at 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 should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 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.’
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
As a younger, impressionable teen in the 80’s, I listened to my share of radio “shock jocks”. More hours than I care to admit were spent hearing the outlandish comments of Howard Stern and Don Imus on WNBC mornings and afternoons. And while the content and purpose of their words may not be the same, the impact of John the Baptist’s opening comment has the same effect not just on the hoarders, the cheaters, and the extortionists of that time, but on us as we read as well. The words “You brood of vipers!” stop us in our tracks. They are so emotionally impactful that they force us to stop wherever our mind is going and to ask ourselves “Is he really talking to ME??????”.
The natural reaction we all then have is to silence ourselves and listen in anticipation. What will he say next? How over the top will the next statement be? And can we insert ourselves in the narrative as ones who give our second coat or only collect what’s due? Or are we the ones he’s ultimately burning to ashes?
In reality, that’s sort of the problem we have in our society today. Sure, we stop and silence ourselves. But our mind keeps going trying to decide who we are in the narrative and whether we’re good or bad. The reality is we’re really neither. Through grace none of us can ever earn with deeds, we are granted a path to the “wheat gathered in the granary.” But we don’t stop our minds from actions long enough to get to that part, to the Good News.
The ultimate action John the Baptist is working us toward is repentance as the way out. But to repent, we need to know what we are repenting for, and what change we need that to lead toward. And the only way we find that answer is to stop, silence, and settle. Stop what we are doing immediately, just like the reaction to being called a brood of vipers would do. Silence our hearts and minds to no longer talk through the questions in our mind, but to listen actively and openly. And then to settle into what God is placing in our minds and in our hearts, to help shape our path forward.
We always talk about Advent being a season of waiting and watching. But what about hearing and reflecting? Are they not just as important in our walk of faith? Reflection is not something reserved only for the Lenten season. In fact, it’s even more important now in a season of looking forward and anticipating. Because the outcome of reflecting needs to lead to sincere repentance for what we feel on our hearts is holding us back from God, and doubling down on our commitment to act in accordance with the guidance we are offered. To “share with anyone who has none.” To “collect no more than the amount prescribed for us.” To “not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with our wages.” These actions become natural when we’ve given ourselves time to stop, silence, and settle.
So as we draw closer and closer to a quiet night and humble stable, let’s use our time wisely. By stopping for just 5 minutes each day. By silencing the never-ending talk track running through our minds in the busyness of the season. And by settling into the thoughts and words God is ready to place within us, helping us to move from viper to victor.
God who shares the gift of repentance, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of grace, help us stop in our tracks faster than any sharp and direct words can do. Help us silence the constant chatter in our minds, and open space for your Word to rest peacefully within us. Help us to settle into the role, the actions, the lives you are calling us to live. And grant us the chance to show your vision in action. In sharing and giving and caring in this season and all the seasons to come. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the victims and their families of the 655 mass shootings already carried out in 2021, including those killed or injured in a school shooting in Oxford, MI, and a grandmother and 4 children killed in a shooting in California last week
- For the families and friends of more than 784,000 who have died due to the Covid-19 disease
- For those for whom the holiday season brings pain and sadness
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the Season of Advent and all the joy it brings
This Week in History:
December 7, 1941 (80 years ago) Japanese warplanes assault the U.S. Navel Base at Pearl Harbor. A total of 2400 Americans were killed in the surprise attack. The attack effectively thrust the U.S. into World War II as Germany and Italy responded to the U.S. declaration of war against Japan by declaring war against the U.S.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Kevin Williams is the Director of Welcome at Westfield Congregational Church, Killingly, CT.