Magazine article The Christian Century

Refiner's Fire

Magazine article The Christian Century

Refiner's Fire

Article excerpt

Sunday, December 17 Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

WHAT IS THE most popular Christmas song? One way to determine that is to consult the Muzak Holiday Channel and find the song that has the most versions available. If that's a fair way to deal with this question, then the answer would be "The Christmas Song," most often sung by either Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby. Second prize goes to "White Christmas" (Bing Crosby again). Then come "Winter Wonderland" and "Silver Bells."

All of these songs contain the requisite amount of "warm fuzzies." Now, imagine you are sitting in front of a crackling fire with Nat King Cole's mellow voice in the background. Suddenly the door bursts open, a gust of wind blows snow into the room, and a man with a bushy beard and camel-skin tunic strides in. There is fire in his eyes.

As he chews on a handful of locusts, he says, "How nice that you're feeling cozy and happy. Your holly and mistletoe look lovely over the fireplace. But what have you done lately for justice and peace among all people? And what effort have you made recently to respect the dignity of every human being?" It's the Baptizer. A real killjoy. You want warm fuzzies and he gives you caustic questions. You want a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, but he doesn't much care how you feel or what you think. He just wants to know what you've done for the kingdom recently. The questions he poses are the last two questions of the baptismal covenant in the Book of Common Prayer. Those are hot-potato questions, much harder to handle than the roasting chestnuts.

When we ask what we should do, he offers some good examples. If some people have too much and other people have too little, guess who should share? This is not a new message; in the Book of Exodus, the story of God's gift of manna was all about the same thing. Nobody should have too much and nobody should have too little. Everyone should have enough. That godly prescription is strong medicine. It subverts the notion that we should strive to accumulate all that we can. It challenges the idea that we should invest our time and talent and treasure into making ourselves happy and comfortable. Instead, the Baptizer says, we should strive for justice and peace among all people and put our money into kingdom investments.

There's nothing on the Muzak Holiday Channel that will be good accompaniment for that message. When some powerful people (tax collectors and soldiers of the occupation army) question the Baptizer, he challenges them to be fair and nonviolent. In other words, they should respect the dignity of every human being. …

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