Sermon Advent III – Year B
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Creator, and Emmanuel, God with us.
We lit the third candle today. It is the rose colored candle, because rose is the color of joy. (Joy is also the theme of Mary’s song which we sing as our psalm today.) The wreath is getting brighter as the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Joy and light are the themes for today, the third Sunday in Advent.
Our second lesson is about joy. In what scholars consider the oldest book in the New Testament, written maybe ten-fifteen years after the resurrection, St. Paul addresses the people in the northern Greek town of Thessalonica. These early Christians were experiencing persecution because they did not worship Julius Caesar as god, and the emperor Octavian as the son of god.
These people are being persecuted and killed. Why is Paul telling them to rejoice always? Why are they told to give thanks in all circumstances? Surely the persecution is not God’s will for them? Is Paul really saying that they should be thankful that they are being persecuted?
These are important questions. Sometimes the world seems really dark. Bad things do happen to good people. People get sick and people die young.
People still persecute each other. Some of our school children think it’s OK to bully someone they think might be gay, or overweight, or bad at sports. Is this God’s will? Of course not! It is sin. Sin does not come from God. I do not believe that a gracious and merciful God wants anyone to suffer.
It is important to understand the use of the term “God’s will” in this passage. God’s will doesn’t mean “what God did because God wanted to do it”. It means “what God wants us to do”.
Paul is very clear about what God wants us to do at all times and in all circumstances. God wants us to rejoice and give thanks and pray. Even in the worst of times, we can rejoice that Christ has saved us. No matter how bad things seem, we can give thanks that God sent Jesus to die for the sin of the world. No matter what the circumstances, we can always pray.
This is no pollyanna attitude where we just smile and it will all be OK. This is an acknowledgement that things may be bad now, but we are still in the middle of the story. We know the beginning of the story, because we have the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. We can rejoice in spite of suffering now, because we also know that Jesus Christ is the end of the story.
Joy and light are the themes for today. John the Baptist came to testify to the light.
When we hear the word testify, we think about someone sitting on the witness stand in court. We see them with their right hand on the Bible, promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. John the Baptist tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He testifies that Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
That is our job too. We are here to testify that Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
Light and darkness are important symbols. In the movies, scary things always happen in the dark. The lights usually blink off and on a couple of times to build suspense, so you can see the guy with the knife hiding in the shadows, then there is a loud crash of thunder and the power goes off. Then the good guy finds a flashlight and is able to sneak out of the house into safety.
When I lived in a small town in Texas, I often had to drive 90 miles from the Austin airport to get home. It was a two lane highway similar to 281 around here, except it is very windy through the Texas hill country along the Colorado river. There were only a couple of small towns after I got out of the city so there wasn’t much traffic. It was not a bad trip in the daylight because the view of the river was pretty.
Driving home at night was a very different matter. I don’t enjoy driving anyway so I am a very cautious driver. The first few times when I didn’t know the road well, I had to be extra cautious. People behind me didn’t appreciate the fact that I was going slower than the speed limit, especially when I couldn’t see over the hill or around the curve. You probably wouldn’t appreciate following me in a car either.
If someone was following me, as soon as it was safe, I would slow down even more and move as far right as possible to let them pass me. Then I could see their tail lights. I could follow them. I felt much safer going the speed limit then, because I was following someone who knew the road. I could follow their lights.
We are much safer when we can follow the light of someone who is leading us down the right path.
John the baptist testifies that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. He calls us to testify also, and to follow the light of Christ.
Sometimes that light will seem like only a dim flashlight in a scary movie. Sometimes that light will seem like the taillights of a car on a dark highway.
But sometimes that light will look like the candle flames on the advent wreath, getting brighter each week. Sometimes the rejoicing will come easily. (Like Mary, we will have good news to share). We will be able to see that things are getting brighter all the time.
Another thing about light is that it gets brighter as you share it. When we testify to the light of Christ and share that light with others, it becomes easier to see and follow. When we come together with other Christians and rejoice and give thanks and pray, the light becomes easier to see. This week, whenever you see the Christmas lights: on a tree, decorating a house, or decorating Howard Avenue, say to yourself, “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, the light no darkness can over come.” Say it to others around you if you can. Walk as a child of the light. Rejoice, give thanks, and pray.
God of light, where darkness persists, may our light shine so that others might see your love and know your saving grace for all the world. Amen.