Passage: Luke 3:7-17
(We used the Message translation for this week)
Giving gifts is one of the best feelings in the world!
I’m not just talking about the nice things you can buy for Christmas or birthdays in shops like John Lewis. A gift could be something as simple as helping your Mum and Dad with the washing up when they’re not expecting it, it could be inviting a friend round for a really nice meal, or giving money to a charity that you feel passionate about. There are lots of different gifts you can give, and no matter what your gift is, the chances are you’ll feel great giving it.
There is episode of Friends where two of the main characters, Phoebe and Joey, are arguing about good deeds. Joey argues that there is no such thing as a truly selfless good deed and so Phoebe spends the whole episode trying to prove him wrong but she can’t. Every time she does something good for someone else she end’s up feeling good about it herself.
I think the reason for that is because it’s built into us to enjoy giving. It’s in our bones. We’re made in the image of a God who loves generosity, so when we’re generous ourselves, it feels great! And there’s nothing wrong with that. It feels right and good because it is right and good.
That’s what John the Baptist tells us in today’s Bible passage:
John the Baptist is paving the way for the arrival of Jesus as a preacher, preparing people by preaching a baptism of life change, encouraging people to turn away from the things that lead to death and destruction and embrace the things that lead to a green and blossoming life. They ask him – what are we supposed to do to get that kind of life? So he tells them “no more shakedowns, no more extortion, no more blackmail; no more greed” (MSG translation) but instead embrace the very opposite of that: generosity – if you’ve got two coats, give one away, and the same with your food.
He says it’s not enough simply to be religious. He criticises those who think that simply by being children of Abraham, then that’s all they need to do to be right with God. We know that Abraham is one of the central figures in the Old Testament and at the time this was written to be a child of Abraham pretty much defined who you were, a member of the Jewish race.
What I love about this passage is that John is saying something really important: it doesn’t matter how you identify yourself; it’s how you live that makes the difference. Faith and belief are massively important, but belief that doesn’t result in action, faith that doesn’t result in generosity and kindness, is like owning the greatest car Jeremy Clarkson has ever driven, filling it with petrol, and just leaving it in front of your house, never driving it. It’s wasted potential.
The question that the crowd asks John is as relevant to us today as it was back then… “what are we supposed to do?”.
I want a life that is green and blossoming, I want life in it’s fullest. The amazing thing is that the bible tells us not to try to achieve that by getting as much stuff as I can but by giving. Is there a someone who needs something that I can help with? As we approach Christmas, is there a particular gift that I need to give? Whatever gift you feel God wants you to give, whether it’s the kind that you can buy from John Lewis, or something as simple as giving up your time to help someone… you can be sure you’ll feel good doing it. We were created by a generous God – it is in our bones!
This talk was given alongside the following Prayer Stations: