Luke 3:7-18 • December 16, 2012
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Many of you probably didn’t hear what I just said, so I offer it again. Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
As I was making final preparations for this week’s sermon, the news feed on my computer offered headlines of fallen National Guard soldiers being laid to rest, a string of bank robberies taking place across the country, college students being sentenced for drugs, and another horrific shooting. This time in Connecticut.
I’ll be honest, with the news of this past week, the greeting that begins every sermon that I’ve ever preached or ever will preach took on a new and deeper meaning. At the beginning of the week, I was tempted to use something more along the lines of how John the Baptist begins his sermon to the crowds in our gospel reading today. Instead of saying, “Grace and peace to you”, I was thinking of offering, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I hope you agree that, “Grace and peace to you,” is a better option for today and really every day for that matter.
The Christian church is in the midst of one of my favorite seasons of the year. And no, I’m not talking about the WalMart, Target, Best Buy season that begins in early fall known as the Christmas shopping season. I’m referring to the season of Advent. Advent is a season of the Christian church in the four weeks that lead us to Christmas. It’s a time for peace. A time for reflection. A time to remember that the light of hope always shines. A time of waiting and anticipating the grace that comes to us in a savior named Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.
John the Baptist’s teaching to the crowds who have gathered to hear him and be baptized by him in Luke’s gospel remind us of that. John had no idea that eventually there would be a season called Advent or even something called Christmas for that matter. Yet, his teaching helps us understand one of the central realities of Christian faith and life during this season – that Jesus has come and continues to come into the world – broken as it may be and dysfunctional as we are from time to time. I worry that we miss that. We miss the good news that God is already present. Jesus is here.
I once heard a sermon where the preacher offered the shocking revelation that every gift we receive comes with an expectation. If the gift is a book, the expectation is that the receiver will read it. If the gift is a box of candy, the expectation is that the receiver will eat the candy and maybe even share some of it with the giver of the gift. If the gift is a sweater from your grandmother, the expectation is that she will see you wearing the sweater the next time you are together, no matter what size it is or how ugly it may be.
You see, everything that we are and ever will be, comes from God. And everything that we have or ever will have, comes from God. It should not surprise us that God hopes we will use these gifts in ways that honor God as the giver. As Lutherans Christians, we understand this to be lived out most fully as we show love to our neighbors in response to the love we have received from God through our savior Jesus.
If we truly believe this, John the Baptist’s wild and crazy preaching shouldn’t shock us that much, if at all. John is simply reminding us of what we should already know. And how we should already be living.
John’s inviting us to be ready and to believe that God is already at work in the world because the Savior is coming. God is with us. We are called to watch expectantly for signs of God’s presence in the world and more importantly to participate in response to God’s presence in the world. Even if our families are dysfunctional and broken. Even if we’re grieving the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Even if we’re in failing health. Even if __________, you can insert whatever you wish in that blank. God is at work calling us, turning us, healing us, setting us free, bringing us life.
That’s why of love the season of Advent. Life in Christ is a constant Advent. We are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, to fulfill. All of it is part of Advent living.
The world in which we live today is not as just, not as loving, not as whole as we believe it can and should be. And for that matter as God believes it should be. But the coming of Jesus and his presence among us – as one of us – gives us reason to live in the light of hope. Hope that light will shatter the darkness. Hope that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices. Hope that we are never alone or abandoned.
So, I don’t think that John’s words to the crowds in our gospel reading today should cause us to run away or hide in fear. In fact, his challenge to the crowds, and to you and me, is to be ready and always live expecting our Savior Jesus to come. The crowds ask John, “What then should we do?” After the news headlines this past week, my guess is that many of you are joining me in asking God a question very similar to that one. If you are, then take note of John the Baptist’s response. It actually echoes three simple things that most of us learned on the playground.
John expects those who have a great deal, to give to those who don’t have enough. A coat. Some food. As we wait for Jesus to come, we are invited to remember the simple playground rule of sharing.
John expects the tax collectors who were notorious for collecting far more taxes than were just, to collect only the amount prescribed. As we wait for Jesus to come, we are invited to remember the simple playground rule of being fair to others.
John expects the soldiers who took advantage of their authority and power, to not treat others harshly. As we wait for Jesus to come, we are invited to remember the simple playground rule to not be a bully.
A fellow Lutheran pastor, whom I consider to be a mentor of mine, stated this week, “John the Baptist invites the crowds to participate in God’s coming kingdom wherever they are and in whatever they may be doing.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you as you enter the third week of Advent, freely participating in God’s coming kingdom wherever you are and in whatever you may be doing. Come Lord Jesus, come to us we pray. Amen.