The Third Sunday of Advent

December 16, 2018

Introduction and Call to Worship
As Advent draws on towards Christmas, let us set aside outer busy-ness, and attend to the inner preparation of our hearts as we worship the coming King.

Today’s Readings

First Reading
Zephaniah 3:14-20  
The prophet calls God’s people to rejoice: God himself will come down to save them from their troubles and oppressors. His love and power will dispel all fear and shame as he brings his people home.

Second Reading Philippians 4:4-7
In the light of the Lord’s imminent return, Paul exhorts Christians to live lives characterised by rejoicing, thanksgiving and prayer-filled dependence. In so doing, they will be enfolded in God’s peace.

Gospel Luke 3:7-18
John the Baptist urges the crowds to repent. Christ is coming among them bringing judgement and salvation. They can get ready to receive him by living honest, humble and generous lives now.

HOMILY        “Produce fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8a)

When human beings want to put things right, they often choose to change the system, putting new safeguards in place to ensure that good practice is upheld. As we have seen in parliament this past few weeks, emotions run high when facing life-changing decisions, and Brexit is certainly one of those. As time seems to run out and the end of March 2019 draws closer, so the clamour for certainty will grow. We don’t yet know what will happen; there are various options that all have serious consequences which the media relish, politicians argue over and business leaders fear. The rest of us are left waiting for some sign of what is to come. My worst fear is that post Brexit the needs of the most vulnerable in our society could be overlooked: We may think of those who receive care in their own homes, or hospitals trying to recruit staff, or the poorest communities in our nation – and there are many of them – where jobs are under threat already.

Of course, if nothing changes, none of this might happen. Let’s be honest: there is a lot of speculation out there that seems aimed at scaring, creating a sense of darkness or even despair. It is true that many of us would like to know how we should be preparing, should some sort of change happen. In today’s Gospel we hear John the Baptist doing just that. He heralds a change and in the process teaches a different kind of message: the coming of God’s kingdom – it is not systems that need reforming, but hearts that need transforming.

Luke tells us that John is preaching “good news” but its initial impact is to disturb his listeners. John calls the crowd a “brood of vipers” and speaks of God’s imminent, inescapable judgement. The people get the message loud and clear and it is not what they want to hear – nonetheless, they listen! They realise that God is righteous and has authority over everything.

His love and judgement demand an active response that goes beyond mere passive reliance on religious heritage or the old ways of doing things. What John the Baptist offers by the river Jordan is a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. This change comes with consequences that soak in far more deeply than the comfort of an outer cleansing-by-water ritual. God’s love reaches into the depth of who we are when we come into his presence and acknowledge His authority over everything.

John’s teaching attempts to offer the crowd guidance in the face of their urgent questions about what they should do in the light of the change to come. God invites us to take our place in his kingdom, giving us, like those who gathered by the Jordan to hear John, a life enhancing opportunity to renew our lives in line with his will while there is time to do so.

John points beyond himself to Jesus and his message of hope as he urges his hearers to prepare for the ultimate new relationship – no, not Brexit, but God dwelling among us, with us: the Emmanuel.  

John’s instructions to his hearers are characterised by a practical simplicity: God’s faithful are called to live in the light, not the darkness, and to love unconditionally, live honestly with faithful integrity and open generosity. John heralds the message of Jesus, calling everyone to lead Christ-like lives daily. So, what about us, today?

Are we comfortable living in the light of Christ? Are we willing to love others, yes…especially those with whom we disagree – remainers, leavers, inbetweeners, the disengaged and the dispossessed also?

John the Baptist’s instructions can help us reflect on our own situations amidst a society with an eroding awareness of accountability to its maker. Indeed, part of our mission is to recall society back to its theological roots, so that people may find comfort and hope in faith and therefore choose to live in the light of Christ. Now more than ever, when so many people are fearful of the future, we need to find our voice as people of faith and we can do this best not by shouting the odds, but by action and through loving outreach.

Recession and austerity can tempt us to hang on to what we’ve got rather than give things away, but this is a time for personal generosity and sharing. This is a time to shine the light of Christ into the darkness of lives blighted by sickness, vulnerability, mental health and loneliness.

As John the Baptist understood, we are entrusted with something of great value as we walk the path of holiness towards the promised kingdom and glimpse along the way that glory revealed full of grace and truth. We have something to share – God’s love, forgiveness and reconciliation for all time and eternity, revealed in the Christ Child from Bethlehem.

My friends in faith, the simplicity of Godly living can be a powerful witness to our King, be it through acts of kindness, an honest word or the capacity to be trustworthy. In the face of Brexit uncertainty we have a bigger hope and call. We may feel limited, that our impact is very small-scale, but the light of Christ is longing to pour into the life of our nation as the Kingdom to come breaks in our midst. Amen.

SUMMARY
1.    Brexit is causing anxiety as we all watch for the signs of what might change and how we, or the wider community, could be affected.
2.    John’s proclamation of Christ’s coming calls for a change in the hearts of God’s people.
3.    The urgency of imminent divine judgement offers an opportunity for repentance.    
4.    All that God requires is honest, generous lives expressed in our current circumstances.
5.    Advent reminds us that the time God gives to set our lives straight is not unending.
6.    The simple holiness of lives lived for Christ can be a powerful witness to his kingship.

 

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