A Sermon for 16 December 2018 – Third Advent
A reading from the gospel of Luke 3:7-18. Listen for God’s word to us in this gospel reading reserved for the third Sunday of Advent every three years. Listen.
“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? 8 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. 9 Even now the ax 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.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 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.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 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. 17 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.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God!
I don’t know about you all, but I’m about ready to celebrate Christmas! What with all the festivities around here! From several hours of singing Christmas carols to our homebound members two weeks ago. To the glorious sounds of the Choral Cantata last Sunday. To Thursday when there was a chancel-area overflowing with adorable children. Some literally shouting out holiday songs at the top of their lungs. Only to get an extra special surprise in Fellowship Hall: the REAL Santa was here! (THANKS Bob!!! By the way, he truly looks authentic!) And for those here Tuesday; how about that incredible, inspiring Christmas lunch hosted by our very dedicated Women of the Church! Spending that lunch together Tuesday with the fifteen women in residential treatment on their road to recovery at Mending Hearts, was absolutely amazing! Mending Hearts founder Trina Frierson topped off the experience – as only Trina can – with rousing encouragement to all gathered! To us, she charged to keep opening our doors to those often turned away elsewhere because of their past; for it truly does matter to the one welcomed in! To the women of Mending Hearts, she told so much of her own story of incarceration, recovery, and renewal; so that they would commit to continuing to show up for themselves as their lives are changed one day at a time through their recovery! Tuesday was such a gift – the felt sense of the arms of the manger baby already in our midst to gather us all up before God. It seems about time to welcome that lowly babe born out back in an animal cave, as they tell in Bethlehem, because there was no place for his very pregnant, ritually unclean-because-she-was-about-to-give-birth mother.
Unfortunately, it’s only the start of the third week of Advent. We still got another 8 full days to go! And instead of the wee babe in the manger, today we’re still stuck with John the Baptist. Crying out in the wilderness in preparation for the Way of the Lord! You have anyone in your life like that? Someone who really intends to deliver good, helpful news. Though each word seems more like a smack to the face. Or at least a significant blow to the ego. . . . That’s how John feels – especially in this portion of the gospel of Luke. This wild, zealous man crying out in the wilderness. Name-calling actually. “You brood of vipers!” he’s recorded as saying. “You sneaking little snakes trying to slither away from what you rightly have coming to you for your faithless, unacceptable behavior.” (paraphrase of Luke 3:7)
One commentator reminds that “In the Lukan narrative, ‘children of X’ are those who share in X’s character” (Connections, Yr. C, Vol. 1, Willie James Jennings; WJKP, 2018 p. 44). So, if you claim to be a child of God – say through being included as a son or daughter of Abraham – then it should be evident. People should be able to look at your life and see a reflection of God. As parts like Luke 6:35-36 remind: “God’s children love their enemies, do good, and lend without expecting anything in return” (Ibid.). Those who claim to be sons and daughters of God “are like God, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Ibid.). John the Baptist understood that. That as God is peace, children of God would be people of peace. As God is unconditional love, children of God would be people of unmerited, unconditioned love. As God welcomes – even the most repugnant prodigal. As God works for embodied justice. As God forgives and empowers us to begin again. Children of God thus are people who welcome. Children of God work to embody justice – which is just-enough for all. Children of God forgive.
Though it might feel more like a shocking slap to the face, John the Baptizer fervently was reminding whoever would listen – tax collectors, soldiers, those in the gathered crowd, even us too. He was trying to remind us of our names. Sons and daughters of God. Children whose lives reflect the characteristics of – well, if God sounds too lofty. How about children whose lives reflect the character of the lowly babe in the manger? Children in whom the very same deeds can be seen as will be seen in the holy child as he grows. Children who speak the same sort of hope. Children who live the same kind of right-relatedness as the one who will be held by mother Mary. Tended by brother Joseph. Praised by unexpected shepherds. And gifted by wise ones seeking the mystical miracle they learned from the stars. If we wanna be ready for Christmas morn’ we’ve gotta hear John’s words. That every tree that does not bear good fruit really is just a waste. Not fit to remain standing in the good soil. So that logically, the Gardener would cut it down, so it can be burned as fuel for the fire (Luke 3:9).
We’ve got just 8 full days to get ourselves ready. And I realize we might be on autopilot scurrying around faster than little church mice, so we can be sure to have ourselves a very merry Christmas. Maybe it’s why we need John’s shocking words. The cold water in our face to wake us up to what really matters! The reminder to stop. Look. Listen. . . . We are children of God. Brothers and sisters of Christ. . . . May all we do; everything we say show that truth!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
Let us reflect upon God’s word to us in a moment of silence – and as we may not be getting much stillness in these often-overflowing weeks, let us truly pause in some silence today to listen for God’s reminder to each of us that we ARE God’s precious children. Let us examine to see where we are reflecting the character of God. Let us listen for how God is calling us through the Spirit to re-commit ourselves to embodying the very being of God in the world today. Let us join in a time of silent reflection.
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