John the Baptist is an exciting figure. He is the last of the Prophets. The Prophets have a long history - two thousand years of warning the Hebrew People that God would come to them again and that they must be ready. There would be a time of divine judgement and justice. The poor and the oppressed would be able to celebrate. John the Baptist calls the religious teachers and clergy of his time “snakes”. He calls on them to show the fruit of repentance if they really want to be saved from the coming judgement. As we prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas it is a good time to examine our lives and be sure we have produced the ‘fruit of repentance?
1. We are called to repent our failure to love God more
Of course we think we love God. We know that is what we are supposed to be doing. The problem is, like the Pharisees, we often make up our own version of what loving God means:
- Some people deny themselves pleasure
- Others spend time in elaborate prayers.
- Some people care for other people
- The Hebrew Teachers keep the Law of Moses very strictly.
- Each of these could be love of God, or fear of God, or self promotion or idolatry - depending on our motive
- The teachers of the Law and Pharisees do not love God
- What we do shows what is really in our hearts - fruit of our life
- The test of the depth of our love is our willingness to repent our lack of love. It sounds a little confusing but our sorrow at our failures to love is the best test of the depth of our love.
2. Respect and sharing with the poor are fruits of repentant love
Generosity is the antidote to selfishness. The real reason for the tithe and giving to the needy is not just their need for respect and material things; it is also our need to escape the trap of fear and selfishness:
- The ministry of the poor is to save the rich from selfishness, hardness of heart and the sin of avarice. (idolatry)
- If you really know and love God you love yourself and your neighbour as God’s creation
- What we give away to others is a measure of our love.
- This is one of the reasons men are expected to work. They need to work so that they will have something to give to the poor.
3. Fairness and honesty are a fruits of repentant love
When he is asked what people should do, John the Baptist gives specific examples. He lays out the Christian values of love as sharing, fairness, honesty and respect:
- Those who have food and clothing are to share with those in need
- Tax collectors and not to collect more than is required
- Soldiers (those in authority) are to respect people, not abuse power and accuse people falsely
Love of our self and neighbour is the fruit of repentance
Since love is such a vague word we use the words ‘repentant love’ to describe our answer to the question “What must we do”. Repentant love means that we have examined our lives against the high standards of the Bible and felt personal sorrow at our failures. This sorrow is ‘repentant love’:
- It means we really do love God and Gods’ creation.
- John the Baptist calls us to move beyond a hollow, shallow religion based on form and rules.
- He challenges us to act differently than other people.
- He challenges us do demonstrate the values of respect, sharing, honesty and fairness in our lives.
- This will cost us something. We may loose friends. We may have to live a more frugal lifestyle.
- Good News is we will have joy. We will know for sure that we are living in right relationship with God.
- We will know that when Jesus comes to us at Christmas and when we die or at the End time, we will see a smile on His face.
Love, Joy and Peace is the fruit of repentance