When I hear again the question of John the Baptist’s listeners in our text this Sunday (“What then must we do?” 3:10) I can’t help remembering a film from my early adulthood, “The Year of Living Dangerously.” On one level the movie is entertaining; on another, it draws you in and gets you thinking about a host of issues that can be seen in a Christian context: the nature of sacrifice, the meaning of true friendship and loyalty, the difference between pie-in-the-sky ideology and gritty reality. It might seem like an odd choice for a topic, two weeks out from Christmas, but there is a moment in the film where Luke 3:10 is quoted. Guy Hamilton, a Western reporter covering the 1965 revolution in Indonesia, is taken on a walking tour of the Jakarta slums by a local colleague and friend, Billy Kwan. Guy’s main concern seems to be getting a compelling story about the political unrest in the city in time for his editor’s deadline. Billy tries to convince him that the human drama of the Jakarta slums is where the real story is waiting to be told. Billy then quotes Luke 3:10 (“What then must we do?”), mentioning that Tolstoy wrote a book with that title and never really answered the question. Guy’s instinct as a journalist is to maintain his objectivity. “We can’t afford to get involved,” he replies. Billy sizes Guy up as ambitious, self-contained…but he also senses in Guy something that he calls “a possibility.” As the movie progresses, we see that “possibility” unfold.
Possibilities. That’s what this time of year is all about. The world understands Christmas as a time of year that everyone is invited to share a little more love with one another…to hear again the proclamation of angels to poor shepherds about “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). That isn’t a bad place to start in getting after this festival called “The Nativity of Our Lord.” But our text today leads us to see the coming of Jesus as something more. The first Christmas was all about the in-breaking of God’s kingdom and a God who sees possibilities in ordinary, even messed-up people like you and me…possibilities leading to a child who would be born in a manger, a Savior who would die on a cross, a King who would be raised from a tomb…possibilities resulting in us receiving peace and being instruments of peace throughout the year, not just one season of it! And so Christmas is preceded by the Advent call to repentance. The glory of the angels is preceded by the fire mentioned by John the Baptist for those not stirred to look around and yearn for peace. John’s fire leads us to see that not one of us can save the world…and at times, even on Christmas Day, we may have a hard time just maintaining peace with the people we share the world with. Yet the comfort of the One first proclaimed by Isaiah and echoed by John in the wilderness as he pointed ahead to God’s salvation made visible (3:6) brings us peace to trust that even we are children of a God who fulfills His promise to restore, renew, and work out the possibilities His Spirit brings to fulfillment in us.
As you prepare for the coming of Jesus again this year, may the possibilities God sees in you lead you to be an instrument of His peace at work in the world.