Sermon Advent 3 Year C
The third Sunday of Advent we light the rose colored candle. This is symbolic of a brief lifting of the darkness of the purple. On the third Sunday we always read lessons encouraging us to rejoice in the Lord.
We have quite a contrast in tonight’s readings.
Rejoice in the Lord always! You brood of vipers!
In our second reading, Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always. It seems that there are many opportunities for rejoicing this time of year. We have parties, and singing, and gifts. We get to visit with our family. We get time off from work. These are times when it is easy to rejoice.
But Paul tells us to rejoice always. There are times when it is difficult to rejoice. Paul knows that. He is writing this letter from prison.
We are devastated by the news of the school shooting in Connecticut. This is the seventh mass shooting in our country this year. There are no words to express our anger, grief, and sadness at something so horrible and senseless.
In the midst of this tragic news, we prepare for the birth of our Savior. This is the kind of world that Jesus was born to save.
These kind of things happened in Bible times too. Do you remember the Holy Innocents, Martyrs? Their festival gets lost in our Christmas week celebrations so we don’t usually observe it.
The Holy Innocents are the children Herod killed. When the Wise Men did not go back to Herod and tell him where Jesus was, Herod was furious. He was afraid that a new king would come take his place.
The Holy Family had been warned by an angel in a dream and fled to Egypt. Herod had his soldiers kill every child under two years old in and around Bethlehem.
I don’t share that story as a way of saying, “This is the way things have always been and we can’t do anything about it.” I share that story to remind us that there has always been evil in the world. The Son of God was not born into a peaceful little village. He was born into an occupied country and his own king tried to kill him.
People have always needed a Savior. The Savior, the Messiah is coming. The reign of God is breaking into our world. John the Baptist is sharing this good news with the crowd.
Luke makes the point of telling us about the people John was talking to. He especially mentions the tax collectors and the soldiers. You know about the tax collectors in the Bible. Zacchaeus and Matthew were both tax collectors.
Taxes are in our news, too. We hear arguments daily about whether the rich should pay more taxes and which loopholes and deductions should be cut. Those were not issues in New Testament times. People didn’t get to elect officials who could argue about fairness and what is best for the economy.
Tax collectors were shunned by other Jews because they worked for the Romans. They were rich because they took more than they needed to and kept the difference.
Soldiers back then were very different from the men and women who serve our country. They were not patriotic. They were mercenaries. They did it for the money just like the tax collectors. They got most of their money by extortion and threats. They functioned more like a government sanctioned version of organized crime.
Luke tells us that this is the crowd that kept coming back to hear John preach. We have to wonder why they came back – after the way John talks to them.
There was something compelling about John. There is something compelling about hearing the truth even when it is a truth you don’t want to know.
There is something amazing about the fact that John talked to them at all. They were not the type of people that “good religious people” usually paid any attention to.
Despite our best efforts, we religious people tend to come off as judgmental about those people who make choices we don’t approve of. We can be quite clear about what we believe is right and what we believe is wrong. We can name the sin very easily.
We have a much harder time being helpful to the sinner. We may fear, that by welcoming the sinner, we are condoning the sin.
John can be an example for us here. He has no trouble welcoming sinners. He certainly isn’t condoning sin in his sermon either.
Jesus welcomes sinners, too. He didn’t worry about his reputation being tarnished by hanging around with them. When he was confronted about it he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
John gives the crowd good practical advice. He helps them learn to live in a different way. He doesn’t tell them that they have to leave their professions either. He knows that others would be glad to take their high paying jobs as tax collectors and soldiers.
What John tells them is within their reach. It is something they can do. He tells them to do what they do differently, to do it better. He tells them to do their jobs; but to do them with the needs of their neighbors in mind.
To everyone in the crowd, he says, share what you have. To the tax collectors, he says, take only what is fair. To the mercenaries, he says, don’t extort bribes.
Seminary professor, David Lose, says that what John tells them, are really the rules of the playground: share, be fair, don’t bully.
Share, be fair, don’t bully. That sure has a better ring to it than, “You brood of vipers.” Those are great rules for all of us. We don’t have to be tax collectors or mercenaries or the outcasts of society to be told to live by them.
John gives people something they can do – while they wait for the coming of Christ. No matter who you are or what you do, you can participate in the coming reign of Christ.
This is a promise for all of us. No matter who we are or what we do, we can be part of the reign of Christ.
Share, be fair, don’t bully. In our business dealings we can be fair and keep the needs of the community in mind. When we care for children we can raise them to love God and their neighbors.
When we are students we can learn as much as possible and use it to make the world a better place. When we are retired we can use our wisdom and time to help others who may have too much work.
No matter who we are or what we do or what is happening in the world – we can participate in the coming reign of Christ and rejoice in the Lord always.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
God our hope, in you light shines in the darkness and mourning turns to joy. Be with the community of Newtown, Connecticut in this time of overwhelming sorrow. May your light surround them and all victims of violence.
Hear us, O God; Your Mercy is Great.