Devotional Message: The 3rd Sunday of Advent (12/16/2018)

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.

Text for This Sunday

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. 9 Even 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 Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Comforting, but not Comfortable

There I was, sitting in my favorite chair at home, enjoying the new John Legend CD (A Legendary Christmas) when a thundering voice burst into my ears:

You rotten snake! Who warned you to flee from God’s anger? Don’t be so impressed with yourself. Every tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Share with those in need. Practice honesty at work. Don’t take advantage of your authority. Jesus is coming and he will separate the good from the bad. Get ready!

I had felt so calm and relaxed — maybe even a bit joyful (tempered by the notion that we are still in the season of Advent…) — but the voice changed all of that. Why would such a harsh and troubling message impose itself on my quiet afternoon? It just didn’t seem right.

Lest you become worried about me, I should disclose that this voice wasn’t in my head — it wasn’t even in the room where I was seated. This voice comes to us from the third chapter of St. Luke, where we read about John the Baptist and his preaching. His doesn’t seem to be, at first, a comforting message. His sermon begins, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? And he never slows down after that. Soldiers are commanded to serve with integrity and be content with their compensation. Tax collectors are instructed to deal fairly with their clients. People with two coats or food on hand (any of us excluded here?) are told to share with those who are hungry.

Bear fruits worthy of repentance says John the Baptist. Live your lives in such a way that the world can tell who has captured a place in your hearts.

An evening news story features a homeless shelter in Denver that is in need of financial support and volunteers. A young woman shows up at a meeting with a “ELCA World Hunger Appeal” t-shirt. The newspaper reports on the continued conflict in Afghanistan. A pastor from downtown Denver calls with stories of how violence is escalating in his neighborhood, and threatening the very fabric of society.

We are surrounded in this world by signs of humanity’s brokenness. Much of what is wrong with our world is the result of selfishness and greed. In the midst of it all, John’s message is a challenging call, and at times a message we’d rather ignore. But it is a message we ignore at our own peril, and at the peril of those who share this world with us.

John the Baptist helps us prepare our hearts and lives for the Christ, whose care for the needy and whose love for God’s world knew no limits. May we bear fruits worthy of repentance. May we live in a way that seeks to make a difference in the lives of those who mattered so much to John and Jesus. May the Good News of Jesus Christ comfort us with the power of God’s love, even as it uncomfortably calls us to make a difference in God’s world.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What is John’s advice to tax collectors and soldiers?

  2. What is John’s advice to the crowds?

  3. If John’s message is so hard, why do you suppose so many people go out to see him (and why does St. Luke refer to it as good news)?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What does the phrase “fruits of repentance” mean to me?

  2. How does my life show signs of a heart turned back toward God?

  3. Given my gifts, and my awareness of the world, what do I believe Jesus asks me to do?