Sisters and brothers,
the Word of God, made flesh in Mary’s womb,
will come forth to heal us
and make all things new.
Let us pray:
Save us, coming God,
from relying on our goodness;
but as we trust in your word,
and turn from sin,
may the fire of the Spirit
blaze among us;in Christ’s name. Amen.
‘I’m ok, you’re ok.’
‘Of course, I could be wrong…’
No, really, you’re fine as you are.’
’Tact and negotiation. They’re what get things done.’
‘Yes, it’s a cheeky little merlot and I think you’d be amused by its impertinence…’
What did John the Baptist say? ‘You brood of vipers!…’ I’ve always wanted to start a sermon like that, but at theological college they teach you not to. For some reason.
Today is the Third Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent is about waiting, and preparing, for the coming of Jesus Christ. Actually, Advent is about three comings:
Advent is about the first coming of Jesus at Bethlehem, his birth, the celebration of Christmas, when the eternal Word was made human flesh.
But Advent is about far more than this. We can’t forget that Jesus comes now, in Word and Sacrament, as we meet Sunday by Sunday. He is in the midst wherever two or three gather in his name. He is here—here in his Body, the Church, in his Word and in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
And Advent speaks of the final coming of Jesus, his return to bring about the Reign of God in all its fullness.
Some of our Communion prayers put it this way:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Or, Jesus came 2000 years ago, the Son of Mary. Jesus comes among us Sunday by Sunday, and day by day. Jesus will come again as Lord of all. And we wait.
But you know, there’s waiting and there’s waiting. How are we waiting? Are we hanging around, loitering, wasting time? That’s one way of waiting.
Or are we waiting by looking forward, anticipating, yearning for the coming of God’s justice and God’s peace, are we ready for Christ as he comes?
This is what it’s about. How are we waiting? Are we lounging about, or are we thirsting for the shalom of God, the peace of God to come in all its fullness? One and only one of these ways of waiting leads to life.
Today’s readings suggest two essential things that should mark our lives as we wait expectantly for Jesus. One is to learn to live well while we wait. The other is to live with joy while we wait.
John the Baptist is good on how to begin a sermon, and he’s very good on how to live well. He also starts sermons with ‘You brood of vipers…’! Perhaps the College should have a word with him…
John spoke against piling up things when others have very little:
Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.
And when tax collectors came to be baptised, he said to them,
Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.
And to soldiers he said,
Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.
John showed the people what it meant to wait in the right way for the coming of the Lord; it meant sharing the wealth. And you know what the really amazing thing about this sermon is? It’s St Luke’s comment in verse 18:
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Good news? Is Luke’s tongue firmly in his cheek? How can it be good news to hear you’re heading down the wrong way, and need to change the way you live? What kind of ‘good news’ is this?
It’s the kind of good news we need to hear. It’s good news when you’re driving your car, and you see a sign that says
That’s good news! It may be embarrassing news, it may be frightening news, but it’s good news. If you have any sense, you’ll breathe a prayer of thanks and turn around. That’s what John was saying: You’re going the wrong way—turn around before it’s too late.
We hear a lot of this kind of good news today. We hear about climate change causing more droughts and more flooding, the rising of sea levels, the melting of ice and snow, more heatwaves and severe storms.
We hear about asylum seekers, desperately looking for safety for themselves and their children.
We hear about debt levels rising, and people wondering if they’ll make ends meet. We hear of young people permanently out of the running to buy their own home.
If John the Baptist were saying all this, St Luke would be calling it ‘good news’ for this reason: when we hear it, we have an opportunity to repent—to turn around—just as the people did who came to John two thousand years ago.
Waiting for the coming of Christ means living well now. It means being found faithful when the Faithful One comes.
We wait for Jesus by learning to live well. We also wait by living with joy. Like me, you may have had the privilege of going to a so-called third world country and seeing people living with very little, yet living with joy.
Can Advent be a time of joy? So often it’s not, and that’s a clear sign that we may have got it wrong. If joy is hard to find, more likely than not we’re concentrating too much on the externals of Christmas right now. We’re allowing ourselves to be stressed by these things.
Paul could counsel the Philippian Church to Rejoice in the Lord—always! Paul was sitting in a prison cell when he wrote those words, not knowing if he would live or die. Zephaniah cried out that a terrible judgement was coming, yet he saw that there was still reason to sing—through that judgement God’s salvation would be known.
How could Paul and Zephaniah encourage us to be full of joy? They could do it because they trusted that the Lord was with them. Zephaniah 3.17 says:
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love…
Philippians 4.5 simply says:
The Lord is near.
Yes, where two or three are gathered in his name, the Lord is there in the midst. Can we find deep joy in adversity? We can, if we remember that the Lord is Emmanuel, Jesus is God with us. And Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us.
Advent is a time of hope-filled waiting, a time of joy-filled anticipation of the coming of the Lord. Or that’s what it’s meant to be. Right now though, we’re all preparing (or about to prepare) for Christmas. But we so often let the dictates of a commercialised Christmas tell us how to prepare, and this is so exhausting to the spirit.
So let’s listen to John’s words about hoarding up things for ourselves. Let’s let the good news show us how to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Let’s remember that this means preparing for the coming of the Lord into our lives again. Christmas is nothing—nothing—without him.