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Sermon Luke 3:7-18

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3rd Sunday in Advent

3rd Sunday in Advent (Photo credit: @bastique)

Here is the sermon I preached last Sunday, both via video and transcript (after the jump). 

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Today is the Third Sunday in Advent, as you can see by the number of candles we have up here. And I know a lot of you remember in many old Lutheran congregations we had a

pink candle to celebrate the third Sunday in Advent, and some congregations still do that. That was back when we had purple candles all the other days. It signifies what they call

Gaudete Sunday...this is the sunday of rejoicing. And even those of us that still have to have adopted the are blue candles we still share the same lectionary readings with the other churches--the ones that proclaim joy and rejoicing and to give thanks to live in the joy that we have with the knowledge that the Messiah is at hand.

Here we see it from our first lesson in Zephaniah, "Sing aloud O daughter, Zion, shout o Israel. Rejoice and exalt with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem." We also read in Paul in his letter to the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say

rejoice." And our psalmody from Isaiah that our choir sang for us, chapter twelve reads, "Shout aloud and sing for joy, o royal Zion for great in your midst is the holy one of Israel. 

So knowing that "Joy" was going to be the theme this Sunday i decided to go on Facebook (I do this sometimes). I went on Facebook and I took a poll of my friends. Asked them what does joy feel like to them, how do they interpret joy, how do they

know that what they're feeling is joy? And sure enough I got all sorts of different answers from my friends all through all Thursday night.

And it continued until Friday morning when nobody wanted to tell me what joy was anymore.

Given the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Friday morning it does feel odd and out of place talking about rejoicing at a time when the feelings of loss and grief are so prevalent in the collective hearts and minds of our community at a loss of so many lives. The sadness and anguish is also multiplied by the very young age of the victims. The snuffing out of candles and the sudden ends of the potential that each one of them may have wound up contributing to the world's future.

Now i don't often turn on the television and so I learned of the events while waiting for a turn at the barber shop and started seeing my newsfeed light up on my telephone in the shocked reaction of friends and family as they learned of this story and like so many other people i couldn't become unglued as I watched the details unfold--the horror--and later on at my computer at home. You know, I've seen too many things like this happen over the last decade or so all over the world. We've experienced them all to often here in the United States. This one just feels that much worse because of the nature of the victims involved.

And so, I have to wonder how is it even possible to talk about joy and rejoicing with all this on our minds.

Let's take a look at our readings--and it might be a good idea when we talk about what the prophets and Paul have to say to look about where they were living at the time.

Now if you're not familiar with Zephaniah, don't fret. It's not a very long book, with three chapters. And we only read it twice in the entire three year cycle on Sundays and once during the Easter vigil (But that's every year). Now when you look at the times that this prophet is living in we know that Zephaniah is one of those prophets that we can actually pen down to the exact or pretty much the decade or decades that he was living in.

The people of Israel were being subjected to forced exile into Babylonian captivity. The temple of Solomon had been destroyed. That was their outward sign of god's permanence on the earth and it was completely in ruins.

Zephaniah was writing about rejoicing. He was not rejoicing about a bountiful harvest. He was not rejoicing about victory over his enemies. He was writing to remind the people that God's promises are more permanent than structures on earth.

And Paul who wrote, "Rejoice always" was in a prison cell when he composed those words the Philippians. And he has hope even though his future was fairly bleak on earth. Like Zephaniah, Paul was filled with what we know to be the holy spirit of God. He is of a mind to rejoice despite the wretchedness of his condition.

And let's take a look at our gospel reading now it's not so easy to pinpoint where the joy comes in our gospel reading for today. John is preaching to the assembled around him--screaming at them in effect--calling them a brood of vipers. But he's also giving them a promise of what is coming. While John is reminding them that they are still living under the law, and that they have to repent, he's also letting them know that there is a Messiah coming to save them. John says he will baptize them with

water but the one that is coming is going to baptize them with holy spirit and fire. And while John's words might be controversial they might seem agitating and rough to the people that are listening to him, these people are not angry.

They're not plotting.

They're not turning on him.

They're filled with expectation.

They're not trying to get out of that fate that he is telling them about the world, to come. They are asking how to respond, through this expectation of the coming Messiah...asking him what they need to do with this feeling that's coming deep inside of them.

Because they don't know what to do with it.

And what is that feeling that can come up on you all of a sudden? One moment you're feeling ordinary and the next, your chest just feels like it opens up.

Like it's full.

Like it's broad, getting wider.

Your blood begins to quicken.

You find you can see more clearly.

More sharply.

Further than you're usually able to see.

Your eyes constrict, and there's a glow around your field of vision. Your body temperature increases just ever so slightly and you can feel warmth emanating from the pores of your skin. And those aches and pains that plague you all day...they might not disappear, but you don't quite feel them as much as you do. Or you might not feel them at all.

When you are feeling joy, you can experience a bubbling sensation. Something sometimes outbursts of just giggling occurs, and your lips will curl up into a smile that just doesn't feel like it's never going to go away. Your eyes might feel like welling up with tears for the happiness that is going on inside of you. But you feel like there's nothing in the world that can turn that away.

You might feel lighter than air. And you feel compelled to share the joy with everyone around you. Take this feeling of joy in expectation of things to come and share with the world.

A great feeling inside of you that you don't even know what to do with.

Like the people to whom John was speaking

"What then teacher shall we do?"

"Do the right thing. Don't cheat people. Don't take more than you deserve. Share your coats with those who have none. Share your food with those to have none. Share your things with those that don't have anything."   

They are not asking John what to do in order to be saved from the events to come. Because the events are going to come! They're asking what to do with the knowledge that the Messiah is near and what it brings inside of them the comfort that it brings.

And what can we do with this knowledge it's not about rejoicing in then being saved. It's about being saved and then rejoicing. The power of God's grace is compelling the joy that we feel and sending us out to do the right thing. And all John's doing is just giving guidance.

Friday's events are stark reminder that the world is a tragic place often. It hit America and its homeland. It struck at the most innocent among us, it let us know that evil is still in the world and that sin and death still have power over humankind. That Satan is still a force to be reckoned with. It is a reminder that the evil that happens regularly all over the world in places that might find their way not to the front page of the newspaper but to a brief paragraph on page ten in the world section or on the it on NPR during the five minutes BBC updates. And sometimes we don't even find out about the horror until weeks, months or years later.

Even amidst the tragedy, we can still have joy when we realize that God will triumph over this evil in the end. We can live with both grief and joy, side by side. Sadness in the tragedy that befalls us and joy in the fate that we have; for the Messiah is approaching. Jesus Christ is close at hand and the kingdom of god is already here on earth.

Remember that grief that we feel but keep in and keep the memory of those innocents in our hearts they are already with Jesus as the promise of God's return and our salvation propels us in the world to do the right thing and make the world better.

And that is, my friends and family, where we can find true joy. 

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1 Comment


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on December 19, 2012 6:18 PM.

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