ADVENT III C RCL

DATE OF SERMON: 
Sunday, December 13, 2015

ADVENT III C 2015

GAUDETE IN DOMINO SEMPER: ITERUM DICO, GAUDETE.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS; AND AGAIN I SAY REJOICE.

 

IT PROBABLY STRIKES US AS STRANGE TO LEARN

THESE WORDS OF SAINT PAUL ARE SPOKEN TO THE PHILIPPIANS

RING OUT FROM A PRISON CELL.

 

G. LEE RAMSEY REMINDS US THAT IT WAS

OUT OF CAPTIVITY SAINT PAUL WRITES OF JOY IN THE LORD—

OUT OF LIVING UNDER A THREAT OF DEATH

THAT HE SPEAKS OF RESURRECTION THROUGH SHARING

THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST—

OUT OF A PERIOD OF DESPERATION HE OFFERS

THE PHILIPPIANS A BENEDICTION OF PEACE-

THE PEACE OF GOD BEYOND UNDERSTANDING.[1]

 

BUT BEFORE WE CAN SETTLE DOWN INTO THESE

COMFORTING WORDS OF SAINT PAUL—

JOHN THE BAPTIST BURSTS ONTO THE STAGE

SCREAMING IN OUR FACES THAT WE ARE

A BROOD OF VIPERS.

 

THESE WORDS OF JOHN IN TODAY’S GOSPEL HIT US

SQUARE BETWEEN THE EYES:

 

THESE ARE HARD WORDS TO HEAR.

NONE OF US LIKES TO HAVE A FIST SHOOK IN OUR FACE

ACCUSING US AS BEING VIPERS.

 

WE WANT PEACE AND JOY, AND HAPPINESS.

WE WANT ASSURANCE AND COMFORT—

BUT JOHN GIVES US HARSH JUDGMENT.

 

HE GOES ON TO DESCRIBE THE COMING MESSIAH

AS ONE WITH A WINNOWING FORK IN HIS HAND

TO GATHER THE GRAIN BUT BURN THE CHAFF

IN UNQUENCHABLE FIRE!

 

YET, ST. LUKE TELLS US THIS IS GOOD NEWS.

BUT HOW IS THIS GOOD NEWS TO US—

HOW DOES THIS WORD SPEAK TO US IN THE MIDST

OF THIS FEARFUL AND BROKEN WORLD?

 

IN PART, THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION LIES

IN HOW WE HEAR JOHN, AND HOW WE RECEIVE HIS WORD

OF HARSH JUDGMENT.

 

SURPRISINGLY, THE PEOPLE WHO FIRST HEARD HIS WORDS

DON’T BRISTLE AGAINST HIM.

SOMEHOW THEY RECOGNIZE THAT HE’S TRYING TO GIVE

THEM A GIFT, AND SO, THEY ASK HIM:

“WHAT THEN MUST WE DO?”

 

HE TELLS THE PEOPLE TO SHARE WITH THOSE IN NEED—

THE TAX COLLECTORS TO TAKE ONLY WHAT’S DUE,

AND SOLDIERS NOT TO EXTORT AND ABUSE PEOPLE.

IN SHORT,

JOHN TELLS THEM TO LIVE INTO THE FAITH THEY PROFESS—

TO NOT RELY SIMPLY ON BEING PART OF GOD’S CHOSEN—

TO NOT TRUST ONLY IN BELIEVING RIGHT—

BUT BY OPENING THEMSELVES TO THE TRANSFORMING LOVE OF GOD THAT ENABLES THEM TO LIVE WHAT THEY PROFESS.

 

SOUNDS SIMPLE ENOUGH, RIGHT?

BUT IT’S NOT THAT EASY, IS IT?

WHEN WE’RE HONEST WE KNOW THAT WE CAN’T FULLY

DO THAT ON OUR OWN—THAT WE NEED SOMETHING

BEYOND OURSELVES TO HELP US LIVE IN THIS KIND OF LOVE

WHERE WE CARE FOR THE VULNERABLE,

HAVE FAIRNESS IN HOW WE TREAT EACH OTHER—

AND LIVE IN THE LOVE OF GOD THAT ENFOLDS US.

 

 

AND THAT’S WHERE THE WORD OF ADVENT COMES TO

US WITH A PROMISE MAKING IT POSSIBLE

TO LIVE OUT OUR FAITH:

 

ZEPHANIAH SAYS IT IN THE FIRST LESSON”

“THE LORD YOUR GOD IS IN YOUR MIDST,

A WARRIOR WHO GIVES VICTORY;

HE WILL REJOICE OVER YOU WITH GLADNESS,

HE WILL RENEW YOU IN HIS LOVE.”

 

NOW THERE’S A PROMISE THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.

THERE’S A PROMISE THAT OPENS NEW POSSIBILITIES OF HOPE

FOR US IN THE DARKNESS OF THIS WORLD.

 

IF WE CAN SEE THAT APART FROM THE LORD GOD

BEING IN OUR MIDST—APART FROM HIS COMING TO US—

AND HIS PRESENCE WITH US—WE ARE INDEED VIPERS, THIS IS INDEED A WORD OF HOPE.

 

AND SO THE QUESTION COMES TO US TODAY—

CAN WE OWN THAT PART OF US THAT IS A VIPER?

CAN WE ALLOW CHRIST TO SWEEP THROUGH OUR HEARTS

WITH A WINNOWING FORK AND CLEANSE US OF ALL THOSE

THINGS THAT CORRUPT AND DEFILE US?

CAN WE OPEN OURSELVES TO THE CLEANSING POWER OF GOD’S LOVE?

CAN WE DRAW NEAR TO THIS HOLY SACRAMENT AND

RECEIVE THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST TO NURTURE AND RENEW US

IN HIS LOVE?

 

CAN WE LET GO OF THAT CHAFF IN OUR HEARTS

AND LET IT BE BURNED AWAY IN THE LOVE OF GOD

THAT RENEWS US AND STRENGTHENS US

TO LIVE IN THAT LOVE?

 

THE GOOD NEWS OF ADVENT IS INDEED PRESENT TO US

IN THIS DARK MOMENT OF HISTORY—

IT COMES IN THESE STRANGE WORDS OF JOHN OUT IN THE WILDERNESS PREACHING JUDGMENT AND CALLING US

TO NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.

 

THE ONE WHO IS COMING IS INDEED CARRYING HIS

WINNOWING FORK TO CLEANSE OUR HEARTS OF THE CHAFF

THAT BLOCKS OUR PATH TO GOD AND EACH OTHER—

AND OPENS THE GATE FOR OUR HEARTS TO BE FILLED WITH

THAT LOVE—SO THAT IT FLOWS THROUGH US

INTO THE WORLD—ENABLING US TO LIVE OUT OUR FAITH

NOT ONLY IN WORDS, BUT IN DEEDS.

 

 IN SUCH A PROMISE IS FOUND THE PEACE OF GOD THAT PASSES

UNDERSTANDING, AND THAT IS INDEED GOOD NEWS,

NOT ONLY FOR US—BUT FOR ALL PEOPLE.

 

IT IS A WORD THAT INVITES US TO LIFT OUR VOICES

AND SING:

GAUDATE IN DOMINO SEMPER: ITERUM DICO, GAUDETE.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS; AND AGAIN,

I SAY REJOICE.  AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] G. Lee Ramsey in the Online commentary on Advent 3c in NEW PROCLAMATION, Augsburg Fortress press.