I am easily overwhelmed and easily distracted. This confession will come as no surprise to my wife, Amy. When I have a lot of time to prepare for something, I often tend toward distraction; and when I am under the pressure of a deadline with multiple unfinished and pressing needs, I tend toward feeling overwhelmed. I have grown in awareness over the years and now I intentionally write lists, make priorities, and give myself deadlines.
When it comes to our lives in Christ, it is easy to vacillate between distraction and being overwhelmed. There are so many aspects of my life that need to be more fully converted to Jesus, so many books to read, so many techniques and rhythms of prayer to explore and “master,” so many botched interactions and relationships in my life, and so many things that I have not yet done that I need to do! Where do I start? How do I start? Maybe I will start tomorrow or next week? Today I need to relax. Tonight I need to veg out.
Today’s readings beautifully wake us from distraction and give concrete behaviors for living in light of our Savior’s second coming. These lead us away from feeling overwhelmed to a place of intentionality. As John the Baptist is teaching and baptizing in the wilderness, the people ask, “What shall we do?” and John instructs them how to live in light of Jesus’ arrival. When I read these instructions all these years later as we await Jesus’ second arrival, they can lead me away from distraction and being overwhelmed. They seem quite simple, but they also seem quite hard.
John the Baptist said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
(Luke 3: 7-18)
Be radically generous with food and possessions.
Don’t use people.
We are now more than halfway through this Advent season. Do not be discouraged. Do not be distracted. Do not be overwhelmed.
Today, read John’s instructions and ask the Holy Spirit to help you focus on living in light of Jesus’ second coming. Ask the Spirit to give you concrete opportunities this week to give generously, to be honest, to love, to repent from exploiting people, and to be content. But know that you do not come to these opportunities alone. If you have been baptized and are part of the family of God, the Spirit dwells within you. Jesus has come; and the Holy Spirit, the empowering presence of God, has been poured out and is at work in you as you seek to live in light of Jesus’ second coming.