Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
7John 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? 8Bear 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. 9Even 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.”  10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers 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.”  15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John 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. 17His 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.”  18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

This is the Gospel of our Lord.  Thanks be to God.

What?  This doesn’t really sound like the Gospel, does it?  It doesn’t sound like good news.  We are gathered here today for worship, and our Sunday School will be sharing the Christmas story with us, in a way that’s a bit different than the pastor usually does it from behind the pulpit.

We’re all kind of in the mood for Christmas, aren’t we?  And then we hear about John the Baptist calling all the people a brood of vipers, and threatening to cut down those who do not bear good fruit.  Maybe we can stretch that to picture the ax as a tool to help us celebrate Christmas by cutting down a tree… maybe not…

This reading does not fit well with the warm fuzzies of the season. 

The truth is that there’s a lot going on in this world that doesn’t fit well with the warm fuzzies we associate with this season.  Because of this, I’m often inspired to question why horrible things happen in this world. 

I don’t often question the good things.  Do you want to know why?  I don’t question the good things because I’m fairly confident I know where they come from.  When good things happen, it’s because someone followed the inspiration of a good God.  Good fruit comes from those nourished in God’s soil.

Do you know what else?  Everyone, that’s every single one of us, has the opportunity to do that.  We can turn from our misdeeds and do good things instead. 

That’s good news, and John was telling people exactly that, even though his methods might seem a bit harsh to some.  He was preparing the way for one he really didn’t know fully, preparing for Jesus. 

That’s enough for now.  Let’s sing our hymn and pray our prayers and prepare for the way our young people will tell the story of God coming among us.  They’ll begin after we receive the offering.