3rd Sunday in Advent
December 13, 2015
Luke 3:7-18 You can click on this link to open the reading in a new window, courtesy of Oremus Bible Browser.
It’s hard not to be cheered up when you walk into this sanctuary filled with lights and bows and candles. Our plain, quiet space has been transformed into a place of symbols of gifts and light as signs of Jesus’ coming presence as a baby born into human life in the very same way each of us was born. But……
I’m afraid, it’s a big BUT this year. So much loss – personal losses of friends, people spending their first Christmas (or second) without someone dear, war raging, cruelty in the name of religion rampant, rhetoric that offends our ears and hearts. Enough! As I am longing the most for good news, it seems harder come by.
And then this morning we hear the voice of John the Baptizer, “You brood of vipers! Who woke you up?” “So with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people,” says the Evangelist. Good News? You’ve got to be kidding.
So let’s take a little journey into our understanding of God’s message to humans. We Lutherans believe that it comes in two forms: Law and Gospel. The words we hear from John this morning are the Law. You can’t hear about God’s love without hearing about God’s Judgment. That Law calls us out, shakes a finger at us: you call yourselves God’s people? If you’re not going to be part of God’s plan to change the world, prepare to be chopped down and burned up with the prunings. Don’t think that your tradition is going to save you, because you haven’t even lived up to that! God can make as many Lutherans as God wants, get out of the way!
Luke, our Gospel writer this year, tells us that people were convicted. “What should we do?” is the question on everyone lips. That is the purpose of the Law, to hold up the mirror to our feeble attempts to claim to be God’s people, and drive us to repentance. Repentance is a 180-degree turn, a change in heart so dramatic that it’s noticeable. The Law pitches us right into God’s arms, shaking in our failure, asking for forgiveness, and asking for a new heart to live with love and care for all people, whether they deserve it or not.
John’s remedy is simple: be kind, be honest, work hard. If you have what you need, look around to see if you can share it with someone who doesn’t. Don’t be greedy, hoarding beyond what’s fair, don’t be always trying to work your own advantage to the neglect of others. Take your obligations to your work seriously, and work hard for your wages, treating your boss and your co-workers with respect. Pay attention to the needs of the world around you, and dodge the haters who want to rant and rave about everything they don’t agree with. Think with generosity of the blessings that have been given to you so that you can be generous from a changed heart. “And watch out!” says John. “I am not the Messiah, the promised one, but he’s on his way, and he’s about to sift out those who hear from those who won’t.”
We want the God we meet to be a God of unconditional love and mercy – because we know that’s the God we need. And God is that. But don’t forget that the God of love is also a God who expects much in return for the life and blessings that have been given to us. God expects us to be the way that God changes the world – no more hunger, no more addicts, no more abuse, no more war, no more greed, no more hatred. And when we grieve because we know we can’t be what God expects, then we turn to God’s mercy. Maybe you’ve heard the story of the guy who wanted to ask God why there were so many people without food, caught in wars, suffering with disease. But he was afraid that God would ask him the same question
AND, at the same time, God’s mercy is powerful. It lifts us from our prostrate failure restoring us by forgiving us. God’s love for us is the same power that brought Jesus into Mary’s womb, and the same power that brought him back to life. That power, that love, is what is at work to bring us back. We can’t do it on our own. By ourselves we cannot get past our hearts preferring our own comfort and our own needs. But God’s love and mercy are alive and active all the time to keep us in that place where we see what’s needed, and are able to be kind, to be honest, and to work hard.
That’s the good news of John – that Jesus is able to do within us what we are unable to do on our own; that God’s mercy and God’s judgment are both/and, not either/or.
The good news is that even though we are convicted of our failure, we are lifted up by the power of love. The good news is that God was not content to speak through the prophets, or their words, but that God became the Word that lived among us in person. The good news is that Jesus comes, ready or not. The good news is that the fire of the Spirit burns away all that keeps us from living as God’s people, and fills us with the fire of God’s own love, so that we can be what we have been created to be, Jesus’ presence in our world. May it be so. Amen.
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.