Day Twenty-One: Put Down the Checklist

December 21, 2019
By Ellen Cooper

By Ellen Cooper

Luke 3:7-18 NIV

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

I’m a lover of holiday traditions. Growing up we always ate fondue on Christmas Eve. It was a fun meal that got everyone involved. This tradition was so core in our family that I thought everyone did it. In my mind, on Thanksgiving you eat turkey and on Christmas Eve you eat fondue. It wasn’t until I went to college that I found out fondue was not enjoyed by every family across the country. It’s their loss!

Once I had kids, it was important that we had family traditions. We have fondue on Christmas Eve, visit Santa at Phipps Plaza, make buckeyes and deliver them to our neighbors, open one present on Christmas Eve, send out an annual card and we eat monkey bread for breakfast Christmas morning. Ok, at this point I may be forcing my family to eat the monkey bread, but it is so yummy! Though each of these things is special and important to us, our checklist during the Christmas season can often fall short of the true meaning of why we celebrate.

Throughout this week’s devotions, we’ve had the chance to read and reflect on the ministry of John the Baptist in Luke 3:7-18 and his work to prepare the way for the Messiah. As the crowds came out to be baptized, John questioned their motives and whether this was just another religious ritual. He explained to them that repentance and gaining God’s forgiveness requires not only a true confession, but a changed life, one that produces fruit.

John tells them that any tree that does not produce fruit will be cut down and burned.  Their question: what should we do then?  His response was to share what you have with others, whatever your job, do it honorably and to be content with what you have.  At that point, the people wondered if John was in fact the Christ but he quickly corrected them. He told them that he baptized with water, but the one coming who is more powerful than he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  John again reiterated, with reference to the threshing floor, that true believers (wheat) will be gathered by God and the lost (chaff) will be burned in the fire.

As the celebration of Christ’s birth is near, it is important for each of us to put down our Christmas checklists and check our hearts.  Are we consumed by our shopping and meal preparations or are we spending time with God in prayer?  Are we stressing about the number of people who will be at our house for fondue on Christmas Eve or did we remember to grab an ornament to support a family in need?  When we walk through the doors of the church on December 24th, is it just part of our annual tradition or are we coming with open hearts to God and ready to live a changed life for Him? My prayer for all of us is that we come with prepared hearts to receive Him.