A voice crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.
John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “Repent! Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”
The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”
My friend Karyl volunteers with her church’s Christmas outreach ministry. She was interviewing a teen boy and his mom about what their needs were for Christmas. She noticed that his current pair of shoes were duct taped together. She asked if he would like to put “shoes” on his wish list. “Yes ma’am,” he replied. She prodded him for a few more items. It began to dawn on the boy that maybe this was a safe place and he could ask a question. “Ma’am,” he asked Karyl tentatively, “Are you telling me that I could ask you for whatever I want for Christmas?” ‘Well,” Karyl replied, “I’m not getting you a new car or anything, but yes! What did you have in mind?”
The boy shuffled in his seat and smiled slightly, then asked, “Could I have two pair of shoes?” It turned out he was wearing the only pair he had. Karyl says that conversations like that have changed what celebrating Christmas means to her.
The Greek word metanoias is translated as “change your hearts and minds” or “repent” or “convert.” The Messiah is coming, and the locust-eating prophet John is urgently preaching to the people, “Convert! Change! Quick! The axe is already about to fell the trees!” Some of us are so jaded towards words like repentance and conversion that we can barely hear them anymore. Yeah, yeah, we’re converted, I can just hear us all saying. We’ve accepted Jesus into our hearts.
But few of us supposedly “converted” people are actually converted if we take the next few verses seriously. “What are we to do?” the people ask. They want further instruction on what this life change is supposed to be all about. “If you have two coats, you must share with someone who has none. And if you have extra food, do the same,” John insists. Apparently, when we “converted”, we were supposed to accept Jesus into our closets and kitchens, as well as our hearts!