‘What then should we do?’ – 12th December 2021 – The 3rd Sunday of Advent

Order of service

This morning's order of service is available here:

21 12 12 Advent 3 Eucahrist

21 12 12 Advent 3 Eucahrist

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The Readings

Zephaniah 3.14-end

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.


Luke 3.7-18 

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
The Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings.

‘What then should we do?’

This is what the people ask John the Baptist when they go out into the wilderness to
be baptised by him. What should we do?

I can see why they might ask that after John has given them such a roasting.

They had come out of their villages and walked several miles across scrubland and
stony ground to hear John speak and to be baptised by him in the Jordan river
because they wanted to renew their faith and hear a message of hope.

Life for them was hard. They were poor. They had to work hard to scratch a living –
from the soil or their animals or from fishing. They were at the mercy of the
elements. A drought could wipe out the crops and threaten the sheep and goats. Bad
weather could make it impossible to fish. They couldn’t afford to get ill.

Their one consolation was their religion, their faith.

They were Jews. And God, they believed, was the God of the Jews.

They knew that in the distant past he had guided their remote ancestor Abraham.
They knew too that God had brought them out of worse conditions than this. He had
brought them from being slaves in Egypt to this land where at first they were free

Now they were not so free. The country was part of the Roman empire and Roman
soldiers and Roman tax collectors were a fact of life. It was depressing. Like a great
cloud of misery hanging over them all the time. Hard working but oppressed.

So they went out into the wilderness to hear this charismatic preacher, John the
Baptist, tell them something that would lift their spirits. Perhaps he would baptise
them as a sign that they were indeed children of Abraham whom God had protected
and guided.

A bit of cheer, a bit of hope, in a dark and uncertain world. That’s all they wanted.

Imagine the shock then when he speaks to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned
you to flee from the wrath to come? …. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have
Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able form these stones to raise up
children to Abraham.’

They can’t plead their religion, their faith. They can’t rely on that to see them
through. So what should they do? What should they do?

John’s answer is in one sense quite simple: repent and bear fruit. Because if you
don’t, even now, every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into
the fire.

But when he goes on to spell out what it means to bear fruit, it gets quite hard.

Bearing fruit means this:

If you have two coats, share with anyone who has none. Do the same with food. If
you are a tax collector, don’t cheat people but only collect what is prescribed. If you
are a soldier don’t use your power to extort – and live according to your means, your

We could sum it up like this. John is saying to the people of his day: the way you lift
the cloud of misery that hangs over you is not by falling back on your religious
credentials – we are children of Abraham – but by conforming your life to these
principles, the principles that Abraham and all the prophets lived by: be kind, be
generous, share, think of others, don’t cheat or lie or threaten. Live like this and you
will be able stand before the Messiah when he comes.

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, the Church puts this gospel before us as we too
look for the coming of the Messiah. Like those Jews at the time of John the Baptist,
we too are finding life a bit hard. We have had two years of the pandemic and we
cannot yet see any end in sight. A dark cloud of misery hangs over us.

But for us too, religion can’t become a crutch, a prop. The Lord asks for repentance, a
change of heart and mind, a determination to live differently, to live better.

So, be kind, be generous, share, think of others, don’t cheat or lie or threaten. Live
like this and you will be able stand before the Messiah when at Christmas he comes.

The Prayers

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid
we pray to Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
We pray for wisdom as we arrange services for the Christmas season under
ever changing and uncertain circumstances.
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for all the troubled places of our world - Myanmar, Afghanistan,
Yemen and others. For refugees worldwide, especially those on the
Belarus/Polish border, or risking their lives at sea. We pray that leaders of
nations act with compassion and wisdom.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
We pray for all who are waiting for hospital treatment or diagnosis. For all
who are suffering due to the effects of the pandemic. For all who are anxious
about what the future might bring.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
We remember all who have died – this day, this week, this year or less
recently, thinking especially of those known personally to us.

Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Mary, Mark, John and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay;
give new courage to your people,
who trust in your love.
By your coming, raise us to share in the joy of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven,
where you live and reign with the Father and the Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is included here,
is copyright © The Archbishops' Council 2006 and published by Church House Publishing.