“Keep Pointing to the Lord” (Luke 3:7-18)

In Herod's time, in distant place,
a priest named Zechariah did
receive a shocking messenger
who said, "Fear not, I bring you news.
The prayer you offered has been heard.
Elizabeth, your blameless wife
will birth a joy-producing child
and you must name this infant "John."
The Holy Spirit will invade
this heir of prophets gone before.
And he will poke the hearts of all,
preparing them to meet the Lord."

This child began his prodding role
while still within his mother's womb.
Her pregnant cousin Mary came;
the woman who, amidst the hay,
would labor for a frightened world
and be the first to apprehend
that God had turned the globe on end.
When Mary came within the house
the fetal John released a kick
that pointed to the unborn Christ
as if to say, "This is the One."

The full-grown John resumed his role
of pointing to the Nazarene.
The womb-bound kick gave way to words
that pierced the hollow holiness
of those who came to be baptized.
"You pack of snakes! Who made you God?
You cannot be a living saint
by taking on the name alone.
A tree is judged by bearing fruit.
The Lord can raise up godly folk
regardless of their pedigree."

The punctured crowds replied, aghast,
"What should we do? How must we act?"
And then, with awesome clarity
the prophet John gave this reply,
"Whoever has two coats must share,
collect no tax that is not owed,
do not extort from those you serve,
be satisfied with what you earn."
He spoke for God, and spoke so well
that people thought he was the One.

"I baptize you with water now,"
declared this holy renegade,
"but one more powerful than I
will come with Spirit and with fire
and gather wheat into the barn
but burn the chaff with mighty heat."
We do not know what else he said;
this holy thorn who dressed so wild
and ate such things as make us sick.
But Luke the writer says to us
that what he said was all good news.

Good news, you say, O brother Luke?
How can it be such happy news
to hear that we must change our lives
when what we want is stressless peace
and someone standing on our side
who does not call us to account
for how we act and what we say?
With all the pressures we endure,
with all the good we try to do,
is there no praise? Is there no grace,
no comfort due to those who strive?

At Christmastime we want the lights,
the potpourri and soothing tunes,
the troubles of the world on "hold",
a moment's rest from war and hate,
from hunger, poverty and strife;
one Silent Night of quietness;
a coat of snow to soothe the pain.

But then, through Spirit-guided thought
we come to name our greatest fear.
Though we may dread that God is just
and knows the wayward steps we take,
our deepest fright does not relate
to heav'nly notebooks filled with marks
which chronicle our errant ways.
What plagues our hearts the most, it seems,
is how to grasp God's miracles;
to live as though God's face is seen
in every human rich or poor;
to act as though the world were made
to be enjoyed and not destroyed;
to love as though each selfless act
augments divine eternity.

O John, keep yelling; we are deaf.
O John, keep pointing to the Lord.
The miracle of Bethlehem
becomes complete when Christ is born
in us each day. For that we pray.

About the Writer: John Thornburg, United Methodist elder, pastor, preacher, writer, poet, and hymn writer, offers this sermon through poetry based on Luke 3:7-18. Thornburg co-authored Can God Be Seen in Other Ways, a collection of 16 hymns, with Jane Marshall (pub. Abingdon Press). He is also author of a collection of hymns, The One Who Taught Beside the Sea (pub. by Wayne Leupold) and a text/tune collection co-authored with Jane Marshall titled What Gift Can We Bring (Leupold). He is a contributor to The Faith We Sing and author of the hymn, "God the Sculptor of the Mountain." John is appointed to a ministry of congregational singing in which he consults, writes, leads, facilitates, and travels in an effort to enrich and strengthen congregational singing. He lives in Dallas and may be contacted by email at

Categories: Worship, Preaching