In December, our media sponsor charity campaigns asking us to give generously to those who have less than we.

Over the years, detractors of Christianity call this hypocritical. They ask, ‘Why only in December? Why not all year round?’

Christians do give to charitable organisations and participate in charitable acts all year long.

However, the four week-long season of Advent recalls John the Baptist’s exhortations to charity and repentance so that the people of his day — Jew and Gentile — could truly follow Jesus. Baptism was highly important in that sin be washed away; Jesus Himself, although sinless, was also baptised by his cousin, John the Baptist.

Luke’s Gospel records John the Baptist’s words about charity (Luke 3:10-11):

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Hence our Christmas campaigns to help the homeless, the poor and other disadvantaged people in our world.

Another question that arises is John the Baptist’s unusual appearance. Even people of his era commented on it, causing Jesus to criticise them (Luke 7:33):

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’

John the Baptist was one of three Nazirite monks in the Bible. The other two were Samson and Samuel. They took special vows whereby they did not drink alcohol, ate only foraged foods, dressed primitively and never cut their hair. They devoted themselves to God and to holiness, living in the wilderness (instead of towns or cities).

John the Baptist’s message goes against the grain of modern, secular pre-Christmas materialism. He called his people to examine their sinful souls so that, in the words of a Calvin College Advent page, which I wrote about at length in 2012:

We need to acknowledge that we have sins in the first place to be ready gladly to welcome Jesus’ arrival …

John gets us ready for Jesus by showing us our sins so that when Jesus arrives on the scene, we will seize on him as the only one who can help us. We cannot have Advent or a proper Christmas without John’s blazing message that calls us to repentance.

In Luke 3:4, John the Baptist, citing Isaiah 40, urged his people to

Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.

My post, ‘Advent: “Make straight a highway”‘ explores this message through the reflections of the Revd Scott E Hoezee (emphases mine):

This is the road God designs, builds, and then travels upon to get to us, and in that little textual nugget is the whole gospel of grace. Most world religions acknowledge that life is a journey a pilgrimage of some kind. We are people “on the way” from birth to death to whatever lies beyond.

In another article of Hoezee’s, examined more fully in my post ‘Advent: John the Baptist’s message of Good News — and repentance’, he says:

John knew that the Messiah was coming to die for sin, to banish evil, and to inaugurate shalom. So if you are to meet and greet this Messiah correctly, you must admit that you need him in the first place. If you don’t, then you’ll have no use for Jesus once he’s born

Only those willing to turn their lives over to God are ready for the Christ. The rest, John says, are fuel for the fire. None of that is very Christmaslike. Or is it?

It is essential that we reflect on our sinful nature during Advent and prepare ourselves, with God’s grace, to be ready for Christmas. Family, gifts and holidays are secondary. The most important aspect is that we ready ourselves to turn to Christ and to thank God for his infinite mercy in fully giving His Son to us.

To read more about John the Baptist’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, as well as Mary’s Magnificat, see ‘Advent: Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke’s Gospel’.

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