The Third Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/16/2012)
Lessons:Zephaniah 3:14-20 Isaiah 12:2-6 (6) Philippians 4:4-7 St. Luke 3:7-18
Prayer of the Day: Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the preaching of John, that, rejoicing in your salvation, we may bring forth the fruits of repentance; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
St. Luke 3:7-18 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
He Proclaimed the Good News
What counts for good news? “You passed the test.” “The Broncos won in overtime.” “All six numbers match.” “It’s still covered by the warrantee.” “The airplane has landed safely.” We all know what it is like to receive good news – especially if we have been waiting for some time.
St. Luke ends his description of John the Baptist in the wilderness with this sentence: “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” He proclaimed the good news to the people. What was that good news that John proclaimed? We might guess: “God loves you.” “Your sins are forgiven.” “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Good news, right? The kind of good news we’ve come to expect from the church and from the Gospel.
But no, that’s not what Luke reports when he tells us of John’s ministry. Here, instead, is the good news, John the Baptist style:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor.” Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you. Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation… be satisfied with your wages.
Does that sound like good news? Not to me! It sounds like the kind of harsh and unforgiving message that runs counter to everything we know about the Christian faith. It sounds like a message that brings death instead of life.
If the message was left at that, there wouldn’t be much good news to proclaim. If all the Gospel had to offer us was the demand that we live good lives, there wouldn’t be much that was good about it. But there is more. There is more to the good news that St. Luke reports here. There is more to the preaching that people received from John, the Baptizer. This week’s text concludes: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John announces what the people were longing to hear. God will send someone to make a difference. This one will take a hard and often painful look at people’s hearts. He will work to cut away what was damaged and unhealthy… a surgical procedure that can be both frightening and painful.
But the good news is that he will also love them enough to die for them. And in his rising, he will proclaim the power of God to heal them, to renew them, and to give them life: life in which the coat shared, the meal provided, the kindness offered are signs of a new reality he is creating in their midst.
This is the good news proclaimed by John – proclaimed to the people of his day, and to us as well. It is hard news: after all he comes with his winnowing fork in his hand, and there is quite an accumulation of chaff mixed in with the wheat. But it is joyful news: this one comes with a loving and gracious and transforming power that makes all the difference in the world.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What good news do you think the people of John’s day were hoping to hear?
- How did he describe the Kingdom of God?
- How did his words, from this week’s text, help to prepare the people for Jesus?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- Of what, in my life, do I need to repent?
- What would “fruits of repentance” look like for me?
- How might repenting and reforming leave me better prepared to welcome Christ into my heart?