Reader: “John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live,”
Response: “but you didn’t believe him.”
Scripture: Matthew 21:28-32
“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.
“Which of the two obeyed his father?”
They replied, “The first.”
Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
In this Advent season, having been in ministry in the church for forty-two years and having planned forty-two Christmas Eve services and having sat through well over 100 such observances with well over 100,000 worshipers, I’ve noticed how some people grasp the significance of the worship while others come for the candle-lighting at the end. We don’t usually see the candle lighting aficionados again until Easter (for the brass and Hallelujah Chorus) or perhaps next Christmas Eve. They are the older son. There is lip service, but no follow through. Then there is the person who stumbles into Christmas Eve off of the street who was looking for a place to get warm and stays for all the services, finds the truth of the gospel and returns the following Sunday, having begun a transformed life. A little understanding of Jewish background might be helpful here. In Jesus’ parable of the two sons, the older boy’s negative response to his father’s command would have been viewed as disrespecting his father’s authority. Yet, he eventually changed his mind and was obedient, while the second son said he would obey his father, yet in actual practice, he refused to go. Jesus is telling this parable during Monday of Holy Week in another effort to help the Jewish leaders see who he is, the Messiah, and who they are. John the Baptist represents the father in the parable and the tax collectors represent the oldest son who said no, but later repented of his way and obeyed the father. The Jewish leaders represent the second son who said yes, but did not go. They were the ones who rejected the message of John the Baptist as to repenting of their sins in preparation for the coming Messiah. Repentance was for “sinners,” not for them. In their minds, they didn’t need to repent. The tax collectors and prostitutes recognized their own sinfulness and repented at the message of John, while the Jewish leaders believed in their moral righteousness and superiority and saw no need for repentance. Jesus assured the former would get into the kingdom and the latter would be cast out. This message was always the challenge of a Christmas Eve service helping people realize the sanctuary is filled with sinners in need of repentance in spite of pretty clothes, candles, and singing “Silent Night.” Remember, Christmas Eve is not about celebrating Jesus’ birthday. He has none. It’s about the Ancient of Days, God’s eternal Son, entering our world in human flesh to save sinners without hope. Remember that this December 24th.
Music: “ “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Caitelen gorgeous!
O Lord Jesus our God, who called people from their daily work saying to them ‘Come ye after me’, may we your children today hear your voice and gladly answer your call to give our lives to you, to serve your Church, to offer our gifts, and give away our hearts to you only. May our response be not only one of intent, but one of relentless faithful obedience. May we not flack in zeal and spirit. Grant that we may reflect your humble spirit Jesus, and pick up our crosses daily and follow you to the glory of your Father in heaven who with you and the Holy Spirit, reign one God, world without end. Amen.
―adapted Daniel Sharp