Summary: A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, Series C
3rd Sunday in Advent, December 13, 2009 “Series C”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through the power of you Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your Word, that we might hear your truth and prepare anew to receive your Son into our lives. Kindle in us a deepened faith, and give us the courage to turn from those things that hinder us from embracing your kingdom in honesty and truth. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
As I have often said, I have not always been pleased with the church’s lectionary selections. Most of the time, I find myself wishing that a particular lesson included more verses than those responsible for developing the lectionary believed that it should. In those situations in which I have disagreed with the starting or ending point of a text, I could easily add those verses at the beginning of my message to help us better understand the dynamic of the lesson.
But this morning, I have a different argument with the lectionary scholars that is much more difficult to resolve. It is a very strange pairing of lessons that confront us this morning, and I have to wander if there might not have been some sort of sadistic plot woven into today’s lectionary to test the skills of the preacher.
Listen to the sermon of John the Baptist in our Gospel lesson, as he addresses those who came out to hear him preach and to be baptized. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance… Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Now, compare the Baptist’s words with those of Paul in his letter to the Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be know to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Does this not appear to be a mixed message? As Rev. Karen M. Ward points out in her commentary on our lessons, “The Baptist says “Vipers, bear fruit, and repent – or prepare to fry in hell. Paul tells the people in Philippi, “Don’t worry, be happy, the Lord is near.
Advent is a time of preparing for our Lord’s coming. The two readings from Luke and Philippians seem to have contradictory advice as to how we are to prepare for the Lord’s arrival. One seemingly tells us to prepare for our Lord’s coming by straightening up, flying right and getting our acts together or else! The other seems to say that we should throw a steak on the barbie, kick back and relax. Well, which is it?” End quote. [Worship that Works – a publication of the ELCA, 2003]
Ward then goes on to suggest that one of the ways that we can resolve this apparent contradiction is to remember that the Gospel is always a two-edge sword that cuts both ways. In other words, the Gospel can simultaneously “comfort the afflicted” and “afflict the comfortable.” She then points out that some in our congregations may need to hear the call to repentance, while others may need to be comforted with the grace of God.
However, I would like to take a different approach to these seemingly contradictory lessons, by considering the context to which each were addressed. And to do this, I would like to start by saying that Advent is a season with a double focus. It is a season which calls upon us to look back in time, to prepare our hearts to appreciate anew how God fulfilled his promise to send the Messiah to deliver us from sin, which God did through the incarnation of his Son, Jesus the Christ, born of Mary.
But it is also a season that calls upon us to look to the future, to understand that we are also a people awaiting the fulfillment of a promise of God. We are a people who are called upon to look for our crucified and risen Lord, who ascended to the right hand of God, to return again, to judge the living and the dead, as we confess in our creeds.
With this in mind, let’s consider our lessons. In our Gospel lesson, John the Baptist is definitely a strange figure, who lived out in the wilderness, dressed in a camel’s hair cloak, living off of locusts and wild honey. He most likely had knotted hair and beard. But he had a very important message to proclaim to all who would listen. His message was to prepare persons to receive the incarnate Son of God, who had entered our world for our redemption.