Read Luke 3:7-18.
John the Baptist emerges among the expectation of rebellion and uprising within the context of Roman occupation. The people of Israel are actively looking for someone to lead them against their oppressors, and John is seen as a possible candidate for this role. However, we see that John actively rejects this responsibility.
Even further, John pushes against their expectations of such a figure ever emerging. Like other prophets before him, he instead pushes the crowd (and, us) to look inward for release from these oppressive forces. John’s call to repentance is both simple and subversive. Those with excess are called to give to those without. Those with power should not abuse their authority for personal gain.
The ethic John presents is not groundbreaking. These are straightforward ideas of what caring for your neighbor and community should look like. But, they are subversive in the critique they offer of their occupiers. Empire is inherently exploitative, and those who are coming to be baptized are participating in these systems of oppression, despite their Hebrew identity.
In this sense, John is making the point that their heritage means nothing if it does not bear the fruits of compassion and community. Like John, we eagerly look to Christ as the full embodiment of God’s love bearing this fruit of compassion.
Gracious God, continue to subvert our expectations during this season of anticipation. Remind us that baptism is not a passive ritual, but an active calling that pushes us to examine and dismantle the ways we participate in oppressive systems. By your Spirit, guide us to live into the example of love and compassion made apparent in the coming Christ. Amen.
Rev. Chris Bailey
Editor’s Note: This reflection and prayer are part of our new-this-year companion guide, which also features additional resources for each Sunday in Advent and Christmas, including candle lighting liturgies, context about the Scripture readings, and discussion questions. Find the companion guide here.