Summary: A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent preached 12/12/2009. It had a dual text, the other is John 3:7-18 and shows us how we as Christians can rejoice in repentance!
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I will say Rejoice!”
That’s how our Epistle reading for this morning begins. In fact, the traditional Latin name for this Sunday in Advent is Gaudete, meaning, Joy, based on that verse, which was for years a portion of the Introit for the day. Yet, joy is kind of hard to find. For starters, just look at our Gospel reading for this morning, in which we hear John the Baptist say to those on the banks of the Jordan River and to us today “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” That’s not exactly a message that on the surface brings out thoughts of great joy, is it? To be honest, it was rather intimidating for me to come here tonight to preach to you folks for the first time, and have one of the readings start out by saying “You brood of vipers!” It might leave you wondering “who is this guy, and what in the world is he doing here? I didn’t come out in the middle of winter to hear him call me a snake!” John goes on to talk a lot about sin and repentance, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a connection there with the theme of joy or rejoicing. In fact, that thought of Rejoicing in Repentance makes for a curious sermon theme, doesn’t it? One that doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense on the surface.
But then, we go into our daily lives, and there’s a lot of reasons to be robbed of our joy this season. Earlier this week, we endured a major snowstorm and blizzard in west-central Iowa the day before Lindsay and I were to fly out here, and while the children in Audubon had a lot of joy over a couple of snow days, there wasn’t a lot of joy for road crews who had to work long hours trying to keep the roads clear, and for anyone trying to get anywhere. I sure didn’t have much joy when I tried to shovel my truck out of our driveway and the snow blower wouldn’t start! How many of you here have done any sort of shopping lately? Have you seen how parking lots and shopping malls get to be this time of the year? Not a lot of joy to be found there, trying to make sure you get your shopping done, or your Christmas baking done, or if you’re hosting a party of some sort, to get all the arrangements completed. For many, instead of joy, there’s anxiety over the economy, wondering if they will still have a job in the next few months, or if they have already lost a job, how will they find another one? There’s a lot of reasons out there to not find any joy, to not find a reason to rejoice.
And yet, today’s Gospel reading, as strange as this is going to sound, gives us a reason to “Rejoice in the Lord always”. It’s because in his preaching along the Jordan, John had a message to proclaim, a message that would give his hearers a reason to rejoice. To put it in Lutheran terms, John’s message was one of Law and gospel. And because of that, it is a message that has great joy to offer us this Advent season!
First, John preaches to them the law. John doesn’t pull any punches, after all, calling people a “Brood of Vipers”, or poisonous snakes, is certainly going to get someone’s attention. He then encourages his hearers to “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” It appears that people were interested. They wanted to know how this message applied to their daily lives, lives that were, no doubt, full of stress, instead of joy. Much like ours today. That’s why they asked John, “What shall we do?”
And John gave them some concrete examples. Listen again to what he said:, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” John pointed out specific examples to these people how they had broken God’s commandments and sinned in their daily lives. To tax collectors, he told them “God says, you shall not steal, and yet, you are using your vocation to steal from others to line your own pockets!” To soldiers, he warned them “your vocation as soldier is a God given vocation, a means for providing your daily bread through your wages. And yet, you abuse this gift by abusing your power and authority to take whatever you want from others, causing them physical harm, emotional distress, and sealing from them.” John got specific with those people. And in a way, he gets specific with us today. If you think that the world is all about you, all about making yourself happy in this life, even at the expense of others to get ahead, you’re wrong. God calls us to live lives in service to Him and to others, and when we use the gifts He gives us in service to ourselves, we are part of that brood of vipers. For anytime we sin, it’s a declaration that “I know you said this, God, but I don’t care, I am going to do it anyway!”