I have had my fair share of moments in life when I have really needed to pay attention to what was being said to me, to what life was trying to teach me. Indeed what faith was opening up for me. Not all negative by any means, but definitely experiences when I needed to “Wake up and smell the coffee”.
This week’s Gospel story from Luke Chapter 3 v 7 to 18, sees John the Baptist call the people of Israel to “wake up and smell the coffee”. In terms of the need for a changed life, in preparation for the true Messiah to come in the person of Christ who will “…make a clean sweep of (our) lives” (Luke 3 v 17).
And John the Baptist does not “sugar coat” (excuse the mixed metaphors) the language he uses in speaking directly to the people of that time and quite possibly each of us.
Is God calling you, in any way “to wake up and smell the coffee?” Have a read…
The Gospel reading.
7-9 When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and flourishing? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
10 The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”
11 “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”
12 Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.”
14 Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He told them, “No harassment, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”
15 The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”
16-17 But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
I was a baby youth worker in 1992, then with the Corrymeela Community (an ecumenical Christian movement that sought to bring reconciliation between the major conflicting identities across Northern Ireland, and to this day still does) when I had one quite sharp and hard hitting “wake up and smell the coffee” experience.
Being new in post, I was trying really hard to get alongside the groups of youngsters who came to the Corrymeela centre in Ballycastle. Youngsters from varied backgrounds, parts of Belfast blighted by sectarian conflict. And I was doing my utmost…to fit in, to be “cool”, to “be one of the lads” you might say.
Until one evening after the group of young people and their leaders had returned, my colleague Phil pulled me aside, one of many (professional) “wake up and smell the coffee” moments was about to occur.
Phil to me: “Dave, what are you playing at?”
Me, (A bit taken by surprise): “What do you mean Phil?”
Phil: “Would you ever stop trying to be someone you are not with the young people we work with? You are trying too hard to be liked and to fit in. Just be you…the youngsters will respect you if you are authentic, just be you!”
I must confess, I still feel the sting of Phil’s challenge and observation, but he was correct. My work alongside young people became, in time a lot more engaging and natural after that particular moment of challenge and insight!
No doubt many of us across our lives have had those moments of challenge and opportunity both personally and professionally when we have had to respond, to change our ways, even say sorry. Phil’s encounter with me, to be honest, is only the “tip of the iceberg” across my journey of life and faith of such moments and encounters.
In John the Baptist, we see a man of a deep and bold faith seeking to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of the Christ.
And he was totally unambiguous about how he saw God’s call to “wake up and smell the coffee”…
No point seeking to be baptised.
Unless real change, life change happens.
The long hoped for Christ is coming.
Get your house in order!
The coffee is brewing!
This Advent, as we wait for the coming King to come at Christmas let’s not be afraid….
To put right (with God’s good grace) all that hinders…
our walk with Christ,
our journeying with others and
our awareness of who we are and who Christ calls us to be.
And get stuck in…(thanks Phil!)