“What, then, should we do?”

Once more this week we are confronted

by ancient voices singing songs of God’s promise;

voices fairly bursting with anticipation

The day of disaster will be removed – of that, Zephaniah is certain;

not because he says so, but because of who God is.

The nation is in a shambles – exiled and defeated – doomed to become a historical footnote.

But God, being God, will sing songs of joy over this ruined people and their ruined cities.

“On that day” – the prophet promises…

“in that time…” God’s people are assured –

your salvation will stand in your midst – your shame will be a distant memory.

These are images of impossible hope.

It is cruel to be told, over and over again, that you must wait –

but anticipation, it seems, is a hallmark of God’s people.

John’s audience is still waiting – Centuries later.

Though the people returned to the land, their oppression continued.

The promise of return had been realized – the promise of freedom remained elusive.

So they gather at any whisper of hope –

at the feet of one who seems just dangerous enough to have been sent by God –

they flock to John at the Jordan

and get a rude surprise.

“you’re a bunch of snakes! You think the promise is your birthright!

You want the promise? Start living as though you believed the promise!”…

…and with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Good news, is it, to be threatened and frightened

and told that you have missed the point?

Good news, that you must share all you have,

stop insisting on more than is your right,

and be satisfied with your lot?

Does it sound like good news to you?

Just in case we are feeling too distant from the time of John and Jesus

we are reminded in this season of impatient waiting that

though our exile may be over, our freedom has not yet come.

Promises that have sustained us for centuries still seem impossibly distant.

The stories intrigue us – we will gather in overwhelming numbers on Dec 24th to hear them told –

to be assured that they are still for us –

but John’s harsh words meet us first.

Let’s be honest; somewhere along the way,

we decided it was enough to be Children of Abraham

(or, in our case, members of the Church) –

that somehow the promise would find us and save us

and land us on our feet in God’s golden courtyard –

and it hasn’t happened, and we are impatient.

We stand in the marketplace and demand that “Christ” be part of Christmas –

yet “Christmas” as we have it now thrust upon us

does little to speak of God’s promised deliverance.

We buy more than we can afford,

we refuse to wait for what we think we need.

We jostle for our place in line, and rush the season to a premature conclusion.

We trample the needs of others to make room for our own celebrations,

and don’t seem to notice that the only ones who benefit from our celebrations

are corporations that feed our desires

at the expense of workers who are no better than slaves to the system.

We are in fact, participating in the same system

that Jesus fought with his every breath – to his last breath.

“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.”

The ragged baptizer accuses us, and we are left to wonder what in the world we should do…

Are we still content to sit and wait for redemption to find us?

For deliverance to work itself out before our eyes?

For God’s reign to be revealed as we sit and wait – confident that the outcome will be in our favour?

I certainly hope not.

I hope, along with John – in light of Jesus –

that we are willing to actively anticipate the promises of God.

That is, after all, what Jesus ministry was.

To a people who were waiting – passively, impatiently, imperfectly –

Jesus came to show them – to show us – how to live God’s promise in the present tense.

Share what you have with those who have not;

don’t cheat one another, be content with what you have.

Love those who hate you – open your eyes to the presence of God in your midst –

Jesus embodied all this and more.

These are things we can still do, even as we wait.

We are encouraged – compelled – to live lives filled with hope,

lives brimming with anticipation ,

For the promise is still before us.

Our redemption is near – our Salvation is at hand.

Let us live in full awareness of that promise –

waiting for those things God has given us in Christ,

the promise incarnate.

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