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Advent 3C
Grace Lutheran Church
Lakeland, FL
December 12, 2021

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, the One who is and was and is to Come. Amen.

Here we are in the middle of Advent -- a time in which we consider the coming of Jesus – both 2000 years ago – and his coming again in glory at the end of time as we know it. It is not a penitential time as such – not a time when we consider the many ways that we fall short of what God intends for us – that is more like Lent. No, Advent is different from that. It is a time of quiet and reflection and focus on our relationship with God and with one another. The days are shorter and the evenings are longer. In the absence of sunlight, we light candles. Darkness grows around us. 

And yet, into this season of deep blues and waning light, the church in its wisdom over the centuries breaks in with this Sunday of Joy. Gaudete Sunday it is called. Gaudete – atin for Joy. The color is rose or pink.  A bright spot in this season of dim light. Happy Gaudete Sunday to you!

And, as we hear the Gospel reading appointed for today, this third Sunday of Advent, we might wonder where IS the joy in this!?! Where IS the joy to be found in this account of John the Baptist coming to the crowds gathering around him and crying out to them – You Brood of Vipers!

Why was John so fervent? So impassioned?  These were the days of Caesar and Pilate and Caiaphas – Caesar, the emperor who maintained Pax Romana in the empire on the backs of conquered people; Pilate, the governor of Palestine, appointed by the Caesar to keep things in order; and Caiaphas, the high priest in the Temple – also appointed by Rome to be the influence of Rome in a foreign and occupied land to keep the Jewish faithful of the time in line. 

These were dark times for God’s people. The disparity between the have’s and the have-not’s is great. There was indeed an upper 1% that influenced all. The poor were indeed among them – people barely able to eke out an existence, people dependent upon the charity of others. And all those trapped in the middle, those for whom despair was a mere hairsbreadth away.

While darkness surrounded them, these people were waiting – waiting for Messiah, waiting for relief, waiting with hope unknown. And along comes this strange one – John the Baptizer. Calling people to a new way of doing things. Calling people to a renewed relationship with God and one another. Calling people to return to life in the covenant God established with God’s people.

Calling. Repent. Your lives matter. Your actions count. Bear good fruit. Get busy. Do not rest upon those who have gone before you.
And those gathered responded with a simple question – what then shall we do?? Tell us John, tell us what needs to change. Tell us.
And, John the Baptist said simple words.

To the crowds, he said, “If you have two shirts, give one to the person who has none.”

To the tax collectors, he said, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

To the soldiers, he said, “Don’t extort money from others with false accusations or threats. And be content with your wages.”

To the crowds, the tax collectors, soldiers, he said – yes one is coming. Wait for him. Until then, this is what you should do. In the darkness of their daily life, John spoke words of hope – one is coming! Joy in anticipation.

What then shall we do as we hear these words today?

When we are locked into the darkness of life, what then shall we do?

The second reading today is particularly poignant – Paul writes urgent words to his beloved ones in the church at Philippi – rejoice! Again, I say, Rejoice! The Lord is near – do not worry about anything, pray about everything – all that you hope for, all that concerns you. And in all this give thanks. And the peace of Christ will be with you.
These moving words of St. Paul were written when he was in a dark place. He was in prison. Locked up. Totally dependent on others. And in the midst of this, Paul found joy.

What then shall we do? – pray, give thanks, do not worry. Seek the peace of Christ.

Each of us have had or are in seasons of darkness. Times when it felt that we had nothing on which to stand. Times when we are challenged. Times when there is not a speck of joy or hope to be seen. And this does not apply only to our individual or our family lives. It also applies to our life in community, one with another. A community of faith and a community as a society. What are the Baptizer’s words to us.

Be hopeful – one is coming. Share what you have. Be honest in all of your interactions with one another. Serve faithfully in the ways that you have been called to serve. Simply stated, let us open our hearts to God and to one another. There is joy to be found in this simple way of living.

Gaudete Sunday – this Sunday of joy is always very close to the winter solstice, the longest night and the darkest day. Joy in the midst of darkness. How on earth is this possible? The Psalmist tells us – in your presence Lord, is fullness of joy. And in the presence of God and one another we do not spurn the darkness and instead hold the candle of light and joy.

Hear these words from Pastor Allen Boesak – these words that speak of the tension in which we live and love and serve.

An Advent Credo
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.

In this my friends we live Joy.

May God make it so