Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28


Should I be worried?  If you keep up with somewhat obscure local news, you’d know that is the slogan of this new piece of art commissioned by the City of Vancouver.









This was the picture I first saw in the article I read about the artwork, and looking at it I thought it was something that spanned the whole bridge.  So I thought oh, ok, anyone crossing what looks like Cambie Bridge would see this.  What a weird way to spend that $100,000 which this sign cost the city.  But then I watched the video and saw that it wasn’t at all over the bridge.  Nor was it big enough to even go over any bridge.  Instead, it is tucked away off one of the paths that leads you around the False Creek area.  Here is a short clip of it from the news just so you get an idea of how small it actually is.

I was thinking about driving out there to check it out, but you know that is a long way from Burnaby and I’ll probably have to pay for parking and I don’t really know where it is so I’ll have to walk around for a bit to find it and well… it seems like a lot of trouble.  I don’t think seeing it in person is going to make me appreciate it any more, and it most certainly won’t make me appreciate it less because at this point that just isn’t humanly possible.

Because really, 100 grand for that?

I could have gone to some light store and paid them even 5 grand to hammer out those letters, and then I could have used some zip ties and old drift wood and I would be up 95 thousand dollars. For that I would even tip the light place like another 5 grand so they’ll do a good job.

A hundred thousand could feed a lot of people.  It could fix up a parking lot.  It could run this church for 2/3 of a year.  Or apparently it could put up a neon sign that a very small percentage of the city’s population would ever see and accomplish the same thing that a piece of cardboard and a sharpie would.

Should I be worried?

I don’t know, should I?  That question just gives me another thing to worry about, thinking whether I should or shouldn’t, or what is proper or appropriate or not.  Because we do have a lot of worries, don’t we?  We worry about the state of the world, the political state of the States, the wars and oppression that we try to save others from.  We worry about our friends, our finances, and our futures.  We worry about the weather, our city, and how on earth did someone agree to make that sign.  We worry about a lot of things.

And now they’re asking us if we should?

I can see what they are getting at.  I can see the artist’s point in getting us to think about our own mental and emotional health and maybe put life into perspective.  It helps us to see maybe how trivial some things are and encourages us not to sweat it.  It tries to improve our moods and stress levels and get us to not worry so much.

Because… worrying is bad?

In the great wisdom of Counsellor Deanna Troi of Star Trek, feelings aren’t positive or negative.  They simply exist.  It’s what we do with these feelings that becomes good or bad. Whether or not you would classify “worry” as a feeling or an emotion, I think it applies.  Worrying doesn’t have to be bad, but what it might cause you to do could be.

In our worrying about our self-image, we might gain an eating disorder, which is bad, or we might be driven to eat healthier and work out more, which is good.  In our worrying about our financial status we might rob a bank, which of course is bad or we might work really hard to save and move up in our careers to ensure a steady income, which is good.  In our worrying about what our city is doing with $100,000 we might protest and vandalise that piece of art that makes no sense and could be seen at least by the authorities as a bad thing, or we can just write a sermon about the subject which we know is a really good thing.

Furthermore, in our worry about the wild and crazy preacher/prophet that came out of the wilderness baptizing people in the name of repentance, we might go and grill him to find out where the heck he came from in order to put a stop to this madness which could be construed as bad or at least disrupting, or we can go and ask him what his deal is in order to support him and maybe even join him in his mission or at very least see how it doesn’t affect you at all and leave him alone.

And which camp do you think the priests and Levites were a part of?  “Who are you,” they asked, “why are you doing what you do?  They needed an answer for their superiors, the Pharisees, because their good order was being disrupted, which of course is worrisome for many.”  “I’m not sure any of these things that would get me off the hook,” John the baptizer replies, “but I’m just declaring and proclaiming the gospel as I’m called to do, I can do no other.”

Today’s text doesn’t tell us what happens next in terms of this seemingly rocky relationship, but we know that John was later beheaded so I guess we can kind of assume that it didn’t go well.  But I can understand that the Pharisees were worried, as I said he was a wild and crazy guy and he was rocking the very stable and comfortable boat that they were coasting in.  When you have someone coming and seemingly threatening your way of life, of course you would be a bit worried, like suddenly things are changing and it won’t be too hard to stop it from doing so.  Find out what or who is causing the discomfort and remove it.

But what I find interesting is that John doesn’t really address their concerns, does he.  Rather, he insists that someone more powerful than he is coming, and that he isn’t worthy to tie his shoe laces.  If John were more compliant, like saying, “oh no, don’t worry, I’m just baptizing for repentance, that isn’t the real deal.  It’s just water” or “quite sorry sir, I will stop now as clearly I don’t have the proper authorisation or permits to be doing what I’m doing” or “what? I wasn’t baptizing anyone, that is fake news.  Sad!”

John doesn’t do any of those things, he doesn’t even address their worry and concern, which maybe rocks the boat even more by not doing so.  John doesn’t give into the worry that the Pharisees feel, but it seems like instead he is answering the why of their worry.

It’s like he’s saying, “hey guys, I get that you’re worried.  You’re scared that I’m disrupting the good order of your elaborate set up.  You’re concerned that I’m turning your worldview upside down and changing everything.  Deep down, I know you don’t want to disobey or anger God, and so you are doing your due diligence and eliminating any threat against that.  Well, I’m telling you that while I’m not one of the old prophets come back to life, God is doing something new and remains faithful.”

I mean, not in so many words, but essentially John the baptizer is reminding them of what they are doing, why they are doing, and who they are doing for.  If only they got that then maybe things would have been different and their worry wouldn’t have caused them to do what they eventually did.  You know, the whole crucifixion thing.

So should we worry?  I don’t think that is here nor there, as we will worry.  It isn’t a good or bad thing, it simply exists.  So I’m not a fan of that art because I don’t think the question is getting to the point.  I think the question should be “why are you worrying?” because you know we are.  You know we have.  And you know we will continue to do so.  It’s not like we can control it.

But we can pause and reflect on that worry, and see what is causing it.  What is at the root of our worry?  Why are we so concerned about whatever it is we are concerned about?  And is there any way that we can see God in it?

The prophet Isaiah tells us today that God comes to bind the brokenhearted, set the captives free, comfort all who mourn.  That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t ever worry, but it is to say that in our worry, we can trust that God is with us, comforting us, healing us, and bringing us peace through the Spirit of love and community.

Isn’t that the point of our faith?  Not to take away our worries or even strengthen us to the point that our worries are eliminated, but to remind us that in our worries we are not alone and that God is with us through it all.

When we trust that, believe it, see it as truth then it is easier for us to rejoice always as Paul says.  We can pray continually in living a life and walking a walk alongside our God, partnered with all the saints.  We learn to test things in the Spirit, and see what it is we are worried about and why, and how God is already actively and graciously providing for us in that worry, giving us the peace that surpasses all understanding.  God reveals to us continually that we are cared for, looked after, and loved by the power that threw the stars in the sky, raised the mountains, and filled the seas.

We are in the third Sunday of Advent, the week usually centered around joy.  And I want to remind you that there is a joy in believing these promises of God, promises of welcome, inclusion, and anointing, that we might confidently go out into the world, anointed to proclaim that year of the Lord’s favour, empowered to show all that they too are loved and that while we are beings that will worry from time to time, that those worries can point us to the providences and promises of God full of love, grace, and mercy.  Joyous indeed.

In a week’s time we will begin the Christmas celebrations, may we continue in our preparation and patience, that we might rejoice always and pray continually for a world in constant need of a Saviour who will show it grace and mercy.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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