December 8, 2013: To Bear Fruit


Sermon
Deacon, Sheila M. Scott
Advent 2

Let’s face it, at first glance, today’s Gospel reading does not leave us with a warm and fuzzy feeling. John the Baptist does not come as Santa Claus, down the chimney, leaving presents, eating cookies and drinking milk left out for him by children who hope for their favorite presents left under the Christmas tree.

No, John the Baptist, dressed in camel’s hair, with leather belt around his waist, living on locust and wild honey in the Desert of Judea, is preaching to the crowds: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near, and …bear fruit worthy of repentance”. This image of John is hard to connect for us, 21st century Christians as relevant to our modern lives.

But let us take a closer look at why John came. John came during the time of Christ and appeared in the wilderness to call the people to a time of preparation. His purpose was to announce the coming of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. John comes for us each year in the midst of celebrations, because we forget, and we busy our lives with everything, except what is important, to wait in expectation, and to turn towards God. It is in waiting that we are given the opportunity to learn to stay in the present and to be still and celebrate the life that we are given by God.

Once we take the time to repent, to orient ourselves towards Christ on a daily basis, we will bear fruit that will change the world around us.

Much is said nowadays in the US about putting Christ back into Christmas. What exactly do self-righteous Christians mean by that, asks Philip Larson in an article written by him in the Sojourner. Do they mean that we Americans will recognize our fellow human beings as children of God, will recognize that the humility of Christ compelled him to love those who were considered unlovable, served those who were considered unfit to be served? Will they understand that empty words of proclaiming the Gospel without demonstrating God’s love for people through service and social justice is not Christ’s teaching?

If we abandon our petty outrage and focus on actual instances of persecution, if we separate the false doctrine of linking monetary success to God’s blessings, and remember that in God’s economy the needy are provided for, then let us put Christ back into Christmas!

Sitting in church does not make one a true follower of Christ, doing the things Christ commended us to do such as: caring for the poor, the needy, the outcast, loving our neighbors as ourselves, does.

I heard it being said, if we are not careful, John the Baptist will take all the fun out of Christmas. I believe he was wrong in his remark.

Heeding the preaching of John the Baptist will restore joy to Christmas. What better way to prepare then to turn one’s life toward Christ and bear fruit as a sign of repentance? That is the way to prepare for a real Christmas. And that is what most of us want because we are tired of Christmas the way it is. His preaching is calling us not to the way Christmas is, but the way it is meant to be, with focus on Christ, the Son of God. Ultimately it is up to each and every one of us to put Christ back into Christmas.

According to Marcus Borg, advent is a season of anticipation, yearning and longing for a different kind of life and different kind of world. I can very much relate to this…

Growing up in a communist country, we did not have the Christmas celebrations most Americans are used to. We could only quietly celebrate Christmas in the privacy of our home, and at times at midnight mass at church. If not for my grandmother and great-aunt, I would not have known the true meaning of Christmas.

My great-aunt was a devout Roman Catholic, who lived in Budapest, Hungary, and came to visit us in Transylvania at least once a year, around Christmas. For me personally, she was the light of Christ. Of course as children we enjoyed her gifts of chocolate, oranges, dates, delicacies we could only dream of in the Romania of my childhood, but also her endless love for Christ.

In the midst of our confusing double life of Marxist indoctrination at school, and strict religious rules followed at home by my grandmother, she was filled with the love of Christ, and exuded it in her whole being. She taught me about love, caring and justice more than any other human being. I was fascinated by her unwavering faith, but I learned only later on how she put her faith in action, and what a brave woman she was.

She took on the dangerous job of smuggling Hungarian language Bibles, theological books, Christian literature and children’s books into Romania, over a 30 year period, never once being caught by the Romanian border guards. Most of you would not know this, but during the dictatorship of Ceausescu, being caught with one Bible could land one in prison and blacklisted forever, let alone, suitcases full of Christian literature… but somehow, by the grace of God, she was able to keep the faith alive in Hungarian Catholics of Transylvania all those years. She continued her mission even after the fall of communism, until the day she died in 1994. I learned about the true impact she made, only after her death. At her funeral mass, thirty catholic priests celebrated her life. They were “the kids” she fondly spoke of during her trips, whom she supplied with needed religious material in order to continue their ministries during the oppressive communist regime of Ceausescu.

I believe my great –aunt was able to accomplish all this not because of her strength or her ingenuity, but because of her unwavering faith in Christ, and continuous turning towards Christ.

As Americans we will most likely not be called to take on such missions, but that does not make our call any less important. The needs are endless. Christ is calling us to bear fruit!


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