Let me tell you about Derrick Hayes. While in the Oakland-San Francisco area on a youth mission trip with Atonement Lutheran Church of Fargo, North Dakota, our group decided to go out for ice cream after a long day of helping the homeless. Little did we know that a homeless man was about to help us! There was an ice cream shop close to the church where we were staying in Oakland, so we decided this would be a great place to go. All eight of us hopped into our oversized van, drove to the shop, and began our search for a parking spot. It didn’t take long to realize that we weren’t going to find a place to park, which forced us to drive back to the church and make the hike by foot to satisfy our palates. We enjoyed our ice cream, and as we were about to start walking back, a voice cried out, “Is anyone willing to help a homeless man?!” This voice cried out to the crowd multiple times until one of us asked, “What do you need?” None of us were expecting what happened next, but our soul palates would become satisfied.
When the crowd heard the voice of John the Baptist crying from the wilderness, some responded, “What should we do?” What made them ask such a question? This voice crying out from the wilderness was not a voice of comfort, joy, or delight. Instead, this voice called out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7). In his Gospel, Luke does not say if John was calling all his listeners a brood of vipers, or just a certain group. But this exhortation could only do two things—move the listeners to anger or send a chill down their spines. Luke does not record anger from the crowd, but rather fear. Is this what the people were expecting to hear and feel, in their anticipation of the coming Messiah? How should we think and feel as Advent approaches us this year?
Advent reminds me of preparing for gatherings with family, friends, and at times new faces—sharing moments that continue to give comfort, joy, and excitement. While I have always enjoyed being with family and friends, and sharing each other’s company, never have I experienced a family member calling me a viper or warning me of coming wrath. Instead, I always hear encouragement and thankfulness.
Is there any encouragement from John the Baptist? No, the voice crying out about the Anointed One, Jesus Christ, comes with a frightful message for his hearers. How could this be? Are not the people waiting to be free from their oppressors? Even before the prophet Isaiah spoke this prophecy, God asked Isaiah to comfort his people. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). Does John the Baptist comfort God’s people? Instead, this voice screams out the Law of God and the consequences that await the people who claim to know the Law. “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” (Luke 3:9).
In their fear, the people in the crowd—including tax collectors and soldiers—asked John, “Teacher, what should we do?” They were told, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same… Don’t collect any more [taxes] than you are required to… Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely…” (Luke 3:10-14).
This voice preparing the way does not tell the crowd to give to the ones who already have, but to the ones who have nothing. What if, as we prepare our hearts during this Advent, we hear this message and act on it? Year after year we prepare ourselves to enjoy each other’s company and to share moments that will be remembered for years to come. But what if those moments were stories that brought hope, love, and joy to families who have little to nothing?
Derrick Hayes brought this message to us. As we thought we were going to be the good news for him, the unexpected happened and he brought the good news to us. You see, Derrick had lived a life full of sin, but as time went on God’s voice changed his ways. Even though, at the time we met Derrick, he was living in a tent in Oakland, he still had a heart to help others. He shared with us that our giving was not going to be used in vain; instead he was going to use it to help other homeless people around him. Derrick encouraged us and exhorted us to continue to be lights in this world, and work to be a difference in a sad and lost generation. We later found a three-story mural of Derrick Hayes in Oakland, and the smile on this mural filled us with joy—not because we gave to him, but rather because of the hope he shared with us.
As we prepare our hearts for Advent, remember the voice crying out in the wilderness. While you wait to share moments of joy, comfort, and excitement with your loved ones, keep your eyes open to the ones who have nothing, and give to those who may not have the same opportunity.
Zachariah Matthys is a second-year seminarian at Lutheran Brethren Seminary. Zach graduated from MSUM with a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. He lives in Fargo, North Dakota, and is married to Kelsey. They have a baby girl named Sophia.