A sermon by the Rev Linda Harrison
Advent 3; Dec 16, 2018
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Gaudete! Rejoice! Sing in joy! Rejoice always!
And, then, emerging from the wilderness, John arrives on the scene at the Jordon River shouting, “You brood of vipers! Who told you to escape the coming judgment!” Offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, John chastises the people, telling them that baptism isn’t a panacea or a magical talisman. John tells the people they cannot merely be baptized and then rest on the laurels of their religious heritage.
John says that it just doesn’t work that way. Yes, there is grace and forgiveness and the love of God to overflowing. And there is our response to that overflowing grace and love and forgiveness.
For John, a baptism of repentance is but a first step. Repentance is acknowledgement of one’s sin and, in acknowledgement, turning from that sin – turning in a new direction, facing God in renewed commitment to the love of God. Forgiveness of sin engenders a response in us – one of gratitude – a response, in joy, to change our behavior, and to share with others the love and mercy we have received.
The crowds ask John, “So, what are we to do? What are the fruits worthy of repentance?”
And John tells them what every child in kindergarten learns: care, share, be fair, don’t bully. John tells them the obvious: be the best person you can be in your corner of the world – be upright, moral, and just in your relationships and interactions with others.
Living your faith by being your best self can be counter-cultural … Think about it … in a culture that supports a my-way-or-the-highway attitude over compromise and reconciliation, that expects selfishness over compassion and empathy, that rewards individualistic self-expression over the common good, loving your neighbor, or sharing with those who have less, living a life rooted in the love and mercy of God is considered pathetic, ridiculous, and naïve.
Where is the joy in that?
Where is the joy for Isaiah and Zephaniah who have just taken Judah and Jerusalem to task for turning away from God, for breaking the covenant, for their unjust and unethical ways? The consequences of their actions will be dire, so the prophets tell them.
Where is the joy for Paul who is writing to the church in Philippi from prison? Paul wonders if he will ever see them again and worries about their well-being and the strength of their faith.
Yet, each writer is able to announce and embrace joy. The prophets announce joy for the repentant remnant, those who will turn to God in rejoicing, remaining faithful to the ways of God, living according to God’s love and justice. For Paul, one who repented of persecuting followers of the Way, joy comes in the strength of God, in community that worships together and together shares the Good News of Christ, in knowing that he is living as Christ in God has called him to live, and in trust that God is always near.
True repentance calls us to live that sort of gracious life, even if it seems ludicrous by the world’s standards.
We live in joy, living as God has called each of us to live. We respond in joy to the love of God and rejoice daily for the new chances and new opportunities offered to us. We share our joy with others through our words and actions that reflects the love of God, that promotes the flourishing – the well-being – of all creation, that honors the God-given dignity of our neighbor and the stranger.
Have you ever noticed that sharing your joy increases your joy?
Listening to a co-worker who is struggling with health issues. Offering to do the grocery shopping for a friend who is stretched thin caring for ailing parents. Sitting in silence with a bereaved colleague. Writing a letter of encouragement to a person in prison.
I heard of a young man in his early twenties who is very new in his recovery from opioid addiction. He is so grateful for the second chance he has been given, so grateful for the love of God and support of friends and family that he cannot contain his gratitude and joy. He is sharing that joy by volunteering weekly for the midnight to 6am shift at the warming shelter for the homeless in his small town. It is his way of living out his gratitude found in repentance; it is his way of giving back and sharing joy.
True repentance calls us to live in that kind of joy-filled gratitude by sharing small acts that proclaim the mercy and love we ourselves have experienced, that increase joy all around us.
In that joy we are freed from secular constraints and anxieties to more fully appreciate the truths of our faith…
- that God has promised to redeem us all.
- that Christ has saved the world.
- that no matter the mess humanity has made of the world, the will of God will in fact win out.
In joy we remember that the One who is coming will judge in all righteousness, therefore we do not need to judge others. Instead, we are freed to proclaim the love and mercy we ourselves have experienced. In this way, and with many other exhortations and examples, we, like John, are freed to proclaim the Good News of God’s love for all.
Joy to the world! Blessed be God forever.