Family Resemblance

December 16, 2018 – Third Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:7-18

When a new baby is born, much of the conversation focuses on who the new little one resembles.  Does she look more like her mama or her daddy?  Does he have his daddy’s eyes?  His mama’s nose?  Who did she get those long fingers from?  And what about that sweet little smile?

As the infant grows and develops a personality, the conversation continues. Where does he get that temper? She is so curious – isn’t that just like her mama?

When our two were little, Jeff and I could see much of ourselves in our daughter and our son, but as Christopher grew older, we were at a loss.  He was laid back and easy going, fun-loving and emotional, and not at all interested in school.  We had many conversations about this boy, most of which usually ended with one of us asking, where did he come from?

Until one day, probably a day when we had been with Christopher and with his grandfather, I looked at Jeff and said,“He’s just like your dad!”  And that family resemblance was a good thing.

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke tells us that crowds of people came down to be baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan River.  They were met bywords that would be harsh under any circumstances, but especially when they come from the mouth of the preacher you’ve come to hear.  “You brood of vipers!” John shouts at them.  Vipers?  Aren’t these descendants of Abraham, the very one from whom God declared would come a nation more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sands of the desert?

John seems to suggest that there is family, and then there is family resemblance. “You might be children of Abraham,” he tells them, “but God could make children of these rocks.”  Your lineage doesn’t make you anything special. Repent.  Bear fruit.

Most of us would probably walk out before the end of the sermon if our service began with the preacher calling us a brood of vipers.  But the crowds who had come to be baptized by John didn’t go anywhere.  Instead, they asked him, “What then should we do?”  If being a descendant of Abraham isn’t enough, if where we come from isn’t enough, if being Presbyterian isn’t enough – what then should we do?

John urges this crowd of people to concentrate on behaviors that enact the covenant God has initiated.[1]  If you have two coats, share one with anyone who has no coat.  If you have food, share with those who have no food.  Just because you work for the IRS or the Army, don’t use your power to take more from people than you should.  Collect what is owed.  Be satisfied with your wages.

“Physical birth into the covenant community is not enough.  Everything revolves around how one responds to God’s gracious initiative in bringing salvation.  Abraham’s children are known by family resemblance gauged in terms of their behavior.  Those who have aligned themselves with God’s agenda exhibit Abraham-like hearts and lives. Faithfulness is not an abstraction but must be worked out in daily life.”[2]

What should we do?  That is not a question we ask when everything is going well, when the Christmas lights move smoothly from box to tree and the cakes all bake up just right and the kids all behave themselves at the family dinner.  What should we do is the question we ask when we’ve reached the end of our rope – “when the received wisdom has failed, when our cherished defenses are down, when our lives are splitting at the seams.  It’s what we ask when we’re weary, bored, disillusioned, or desperate.  What should we do?”[3]

John’s answer reminds us that we’ve already received the best Christmas present – the gift of God’s grace.  We “are Abraham’s children and God’s chosen by divine love and grace, not through legacy, ethnicity, or biology.”  When we ask that question, we recognize “that grace has been received and mercy has been given.  The question announces a people ready to hear and live a life that bears repentance’s fruit.”[4]

What then should we do?  We should live our everyday lives witnessing to the kingdom of God that is here now among us.  “God cares how we live here.”[5]  Because of God’s grace, because of our repentance, our attention to the heart of the everyday, we live in joy.  When our lives bear fruit worthy of repentance, we can respond to the prophet Zephaniah’s call – “Sing aloud!  Rejoice! Exult with all your heart!”  When we resemble the family of God, we’ve already received the best Christmas gift.

[1] Joel B. Green, Connections Year C/Vol. 1,44

[2] Ibid.

[3]Debie Thomas, “What Then Should We Do?” Journey With Jesus, 09 December 2018

[4] Willie James Jennings, Connections Year C/Vol. 1, 45

[5] Thomas


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