John the Baptist and Amos in Paris
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…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.” (John 3: 7-14)
John the Baptist comes along this week exhorting us to a level of repentance that results in righteous action. The examples John gives of righteous action all involve honesty and generosity with our money and possessions. In particular, if we have more than enough — two coats — we must share with anyone who has nothing. If we have food, we need to share it with people who don’t have food.
Today (December 12) the COP21 meeting in Paris reached a landmark climate agreement. Some of the negotiations this week revolved around the question of whether to stick with the 2 degree Celsius target for global warming or revise that target to the 1.5 degree mark that the Climate Vulnerable Nations need to survive. As Democracy Now reported a protestor pointing out this week: “They are not deciding how to tackle climate change; they are deciding who lives and who dies.” Hearing this against the backdrop of our readings from Amos and John the Baptist makes it clear that wealthier nations cannot take the easy way out with a 2 degree target that saves many of us but sentences people in climate vulnerable nations to death.
Another justice question at the conference was about whether wealthier developed nations, whose industrialization depended on burning fossil fuels that created greenhouse gases, should give money to less developed nations to help them adapt to climate change. In the United States, this will become an issue for Congress to address, and it could be a tough sell given our political atmosphere. And yet we hear John the Baptist saying “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none”.
This agreement opens the door to justice, but wealthier nations will have to decide whether we will walk through it. The present international commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions would result in global warming greater than two degrees Celsius, far from the 1.5 degree target. The agreements in principle to assist less developed nations in adapting to climate change will need to be backed up by the actions of individual nations. What this agreement gives us is an opportunity to repent of our past disregard for the earth’s climate and the earth’s most vulnerable people and do the right thing. We in the United States will need to press our elected officials to accelerated our transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and press them to do justice in sharing the burden of most vulnerable nations’ adjustment to climate change.
This Third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, a Sunday to rejoice in the midst of our Advent preparation. There is joy in justice. Our rejoicing can be full rather than empty if righteous action accompanies our religious celebration.