John the Baptizer 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 ax 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. Luke 3:7-18
John the Baptizer came preaching to the people that the promised Messiah was coming soon. There was some unfinished business to attend to before his arrival. There was a need for the people to make ready to receive him, to confess their sin and turn away from those things that were too easily given the place of God in their lives. John the Baptist spoke of a new hope God was about to present to the world, inviting the people to join him in turning their hearts back to God.
Advent brings John’s message back into our midst. We have preparations to make, unfinished business to attend to, sins to confess. All because God has cradled hope on our doorsteps in the person of Jesus, the incarnation of Good News and undying love. Jesus has come to us today and into our lives with an invitation to live with hope, live with joy, and live at peace. Jesus has come seeking to restore and rebuild what our sin has broken down, to heal such things as only His Spirit can make whole.
As part of your Advent preparation, I would invite you to consider your unfinished business. What are those things which cast long, dark shadows across your life and the lives of those around you? What are your obstacles to living with faith and with hope? What is it that is depriving you of a peaceful soul? Who are those people to whom you have amends to make or whom you pray would come to you? Where is it that forgiveness could be offered but has been withheld out of pride or spite? What change of attitude is needed for you to make way for hope?
Some of the answers to those questions may be easy and dealing with them relatively painless. Others may be difficult and the thought of dealing with them quite painful. In some instances, the injustice or hurt may be so great that the thought of working through it may seem next to impossible. In any case, there is urgency to begin. Life lived always in the shadow of unfinished business is so much less than what it needs to be.
Like John the Baptizer, I would direct your attention to the one who is greater than any prophet, pastor or priest. Greater than any psychologist, therapist or counselor. The One who through God’s own Spirit brings his healing and comfort to us now. See Him as the hope, your hope, for freedom from whatever it is that keeps you from peace.
“All of us have unfinished business,” said a hospice nurse. “No one can die in peace until it is put to rest.” As the story of Jesus unfolds, you see how He came to put all unfinished business to rest. To restore hope where it had been lost and to strengthen it where it had become weak. He came to announce hope for those who felt hopeless and to reconcile all of God’s children to God. It is for this gift that we prepare our hearts. It is for this reason that we make room for the gift of hope, for the gift of reconciliation, for the gift of peace.
Advent is about remembering that never, ever, do we live without hope. Never, ever, do we make our way without God. We have a hope that can turn hardened hearts and brooding vipers into a people who prepare the way of the Lord and then walk in it. A people who sing about and tell others that God is coming straightaway and His kingdom is so near to you that you can see it. Not only that, but you can live in it. Today.