√ Put up the Christmas tree — check.
√ Bought Christmas presents — check.
√ Hung stockings with care — check.
√ Children visited Santa — Oops! too old!
√ Watched Miracle on 34th St 4 times — check.
√ Heard, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" 400 times — Ecch! check.
√ Confessed and repented of my sins! What?
"Confess and repent?" What a depressing way to think about Christmas. Larry, don't you know those old-fashioned terms are out? Codependency, dysfunctional, fetish, psychosis, neurosis and other excuses are the new terms for the 21st century. Why go back in time? Yet every year during Christmas and Easter, church leaders and pastors usually read from the Bible about a prophet named John the Baptist and his emphasis on confession and repentance. Why?
This is probably not the Christmas message you want to hear. Am I right? Don't lose hope; there is an uplifting ending, so stay with me.
In each of the four Gospels, you can almost hear the shrill voice of John the Baptist, the animal skin clad, bug-eating prophet who proclaimed himself as "A voice shouting in the wilderness; 'Prepare a pathway for the Lord's coming! Make a straight road for Him!'" (Luke 3:4).
His next statement, however, should get your attention: "You ungrateful pile of snakes! Don't just talk about being a follower of God, do something about it!" That's pretty strong language. Wait! There is more! "Even now the ax of God's judgment is poised ready to sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:7-9).
- You ungrateful pile of snakes!
- Don't just talk, do something!
- God's judgment is poised like an ax!
- Every tree not producing fruit will be chopped down and burned!
Ouch! No wonder John the Baptist was beheaded. But he is right. We need to hear the voice in the wilderness crying out to "Prepare a pathway!" which describes three basic tenets of our faith:
- Sin is anything that separates us from God. We all do it. We all must face it.
- Confession is the courage of admitting we are flawed human beings in need of help.
- Repentance is our willingness to ask for and accept God's power to change us.
A recent Gallup poll showed that Americans believe in Christ, but few translate that belief into action. Studies show as much dishonesty and unethical behavior within those claiming to be church members as among those who do not. Divorce rates are as high within the church as out. When surveyed, people described religion as a balm for overcoming depression rather than a call for serious change. Yet the voice of John the Baptist rings loud and clear: "Don't just talk; do something!"
The crowd responded to John the Baptist by asking, "What do we do?" (Luke 3:10-14). He said:
- Share: Not just with your family but anyone in need. Give some of your blessings away. Learning to give is not just putting more money in the offering plate; it's a foundation of your faith.
- Play Fair: Be honest in your relationship with others! Employers — treat workers with genuine respect! Employees — earn your pay! Take a stand for what is right but with an attitude of love.
- Be Content: We all want to be successful but God often has different ideas on what success really means. It may be time to ask: "Am I where God wants me to be?"
This kind of preparation applies to all, from preachers to pew-sitters to sleep-in-and-forget-about-it believers. "Making a straight path" may be the most important Christmas preparation we attempt.
What about you? Does your Christmas list include an old-fashioned straight talk with God about your sinful behavior? God promises to listen with compassion, offer total forgiveness, enable you to change and continue loving you. Isn't that great? The "Good News" is about listening to John the Baptist now so you will really appreciate what happens on Christmas Day. "Prepare a pathway for the Lord's coming!"