Welcome to worship this day, for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 12, 2021! We are glad that you’re here!
The worship bulletin can be found here. The bulletin will have the order of worship with the words and responses to the liturgy, the hymn numbers out of the ELW and the page numbers out of the Tree of Life booklet, and the sermon in full. The sermon is also included after the video.
For a fuller online worship experience, if feasible you can have some elements in your space. The first is a lit candle throughout the service, and can be extinguished during the sending hymn at the end. And something small to eat and drink for communion. These are optional of course, please do what is most comfortable and conducive for worship for you.
May God bless you with hope, peace, and joy, this Advent season and always!
Holy God, you are our guide and ultimate assurance. By your Spirit, open us to your promises and teachings and shower us with the refining fire of your love, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
So it’s almost Christmas. You probably were able to tell from the increased decorations here at the church, and perhaps even now in your homes. You probably seen the festive lights around the city and neighbourhood. And there is no way that you were able to avoid the music already playing on the radio, in the malls and stores, and pretty much any elevator that you had the opportunity to be in. It’s pretty clear that it’s almost Christmas.
And nothing really says “it’s almost Christmas” than the increasing greed and selfishness of certain little kids. Not all of them, mind you, but just certain ones. Making long wish lists, trying to manipulate the situation to ensure maximum giftage, trying to look overly considerate and polite and pointing them to appear to deserve more and better. But this mentality of trying to get as much as we can for as little effort as possible, which really is what Christmas has become in much of our Western world, is normal, isn’t it? I know I was like that when I was growing up, and perhaps that is where these certain kids got it from. But if I’m being honest, I’m still like that a bit now. It’s just good business practice. Buy low, sell high. A penny saved is a penny earned. Always look for the best bang for your buck.
The point is, I think we all have a bit of that in us. Maybe it isn’t greed per se, but it’s a desire for us to just get the best. The best deal, the best products or services, and maybe even the best treatment. If you don’t believe me, just go to like any busy restaurant and before too long you’ll probably see what I mean.
I don’t know if there is anything inherently wrong with that, wanting what is best for us. It’s pretty natural as its part of our survival instinct. But I think the problem comes when it’s just our survival or our getting ahead that we’re worried about and not anyone else’s. When we start stepping on the backs of others to get our dues, then maybe that is where the line is crossed into the selfish zone. When we take advantage of the powerless, exploit the weak, or exercise our privilege over others, then maybe we’re inching dangerously close into the “brood of vipers” territory.
Because I think it’s these attitudes of selfishness, self-centeredness, and outright greed that John the Baptizer is talking about today in his seemingly uncalled for rant toward the people who just wanted to get their heads wet. He goes off on them for fleeing the wrath to come, which by the way he warned them about, and chastises them for doing basically what everyone else in that time was doing, or not doing for that matter.
I mean sharing your excess stuff makes sense. If it’s extra and we’re not using it, then why not? Let someone else use it if we aren’t. But it gets a little harder if we are using it or do want to keep it, doesn’t it? Two coats doesn’t sound like a lot especially in this crazy Pacific Northwest weather, it’d be good to have a backup and who know when those old styles will come back. And how do we define “extra” anyway? John goes and explains to the tax collectors not to charge extra and keep the surplus for themselves. He tells the soldiers to not create their own form of taxation and extort extra from the people. Why not just tell everyone to lay down and be a door mat while he’s at it?
Sure, these days we might be like, well yeah, don’t cheat other people. That makes sense. But in those days, that’s how they made a living. It’d be like these days asking employees not to ask for a raise but work for the barely liveable minimum wage instead. It’d be like asking employers not to make profits but operate at cost instead. It’d be like telling everyone not to expect to ever get ahead because whenever they do, even by just a bit, it is their duty to give it to those who aren’t as ahead.
So you can see why John was eventually beheaded. No one wants to hear this kind of unfair treatment. No one wants to be told that they can’t have nice things. No one wants to not look out for themselves. Why not? Because then that is how the world goes to anarchy, isn’t it? That is how we lose our precious freedoms. That is how the things we’ve worked hard to gain are taken away. That is how all the privileges we have from nothing other than where and to whom we’re born are brought into light.
See, not only did John the Baptizer call the people out on their selfish self-centeredness, but he also called out the privilege they have received from their national identity. He says, “Don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our ancestor’” because that doesn’t mean anything here, it doesn’t matter who your parents or grandparents or great grandparents are. He might as well have said “Don’t brag about what flag you stand under, because all the nations of the world are temporary anyway” or “Don’t hide behind your wealth and job titles, as you can’t take any of that with you when you die” or even “Don’t think that just because your skin is a certain colour that you are any better… or worse… than those of a different skin colour”.
I mean, that is what John is talking about here. He’s calling everyone out for the inequality of the systems that have been put into place. He’s pointing out the inherit narcissism and greed we all share. He’s encouraging us to step down out of our privilege and live in equality, peace, and joy. And honestly, for most people that sounds awful.
It sounds awful because we for so long have been used to looking out for just ourselves. We cringe at the thought of not being able to earn points, gain merits, and show off the achievements that we really do work hard to get. We don’t want to live just in consideration of others because if we do that, we feel that there won’t be anyone left to watch out for and take care of us.
Well, honestly, that is the beauty of this new way of life that John and later on Jesus and we come to realise God all along has been trying to describe. This new way of life that has been introduced to us like a few thousand years ago but is somehow still so hard for us to adopt. This new way of life that liberates us from the rat race, makes the greed and self-centeredness obsolete, lifts us up into true community with God and each other, and shows us the equality we share in God’s love and the joy of our collective salvation.
This new way of life is living for others. And while we’re worried about who will then watch out for us, we’ll find in this new way that just as we live for others, others are living for us. See this way of living promotes a mutuality that we just don’t get in a dog-eat-dog world. This way of living constantly reminds us of how we as a human race are better when we are together, and not alone. This way of living is what we are called to in our baptism, in our faith, and in the salvation that God so graciously gives.
So we can see how this preaching of John the Baptizer can be called “good news”. We can see how this is gospel for the people. We can see how this message of grace can work even in a world like ours. We just need to put down the weapons. Put down the rights we think we deserve. Put down the selfishness and greed. And maybe, by God’s grace, maybe we can bear fruits worthy of repentance. Maybe we live the love that God first gives us. Maybe we can know the true joy that God wants us to experience in being part of this body of Christ, equally identified and called children of God, saved by God’s grace and the peace that surpasses all understanding.
This new way of life for sure isn’t easy. But it is meant to be fulfilling in that we can see how we are all connected, how we all are loved, how we all matter in the great grand scheme of things that spans across time and space. See all of John the Baptizer’s words here aren’t exactly rebukes as much as they are encouragements and invitations to see something greater than ourselves. Something that is full of community and right relationship. Something that is made up of and brings out pure joy.
In this season of Advent, may we be humbled by God’s love and grace and built back up by God’s promises and good news, lifting us up to live in community and right relationship, in the joy of our salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen.