In pm's words
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December 14, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we rejoice...


Sermon from December 13, 2015

Text: Luke 3: 7-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer! Amen.

So, here we are in the third week of Advent. The celebration of the Nativity of our Lord is fast approaching. We have been in the midst of preparation. We have been preparing this space for Christ’s coming as we have Chrismon trees that are adorned with symbols of our faith and the story of Jesus’ birth. We have our Advent wreath and candles that are lit each week as we sing to remind us again and again that Jesus’ birth is coming – that God’s in-breaking into the world is almost at hand – that Immanuel, God with us, is almost here. Nativity scenes have been arranged. Programs about Jesus’ birth are right on the horizon – like ours at 3pm today.

And, we’ve got the secular side of our preparations in full swing as well. Homes have been decorated with an array of lights, greenery – both the real and the real-looking have been put up, and an immense assortment of ornaments have been placed upon the many Christmas trees of our lives both the traditional like angels, Santas, and baubles. Even moving into the not-so-traditional like spaceships, time machines, and Disney characters. Stockings have been hung. Gifts have been searched out and obtained. Presents have been wrapped and tucked under the tree.

The scene has been set and for the most part we sit. We wait. We look to Christ’s birth in expectant hope of what God is going to be bringing into the world.

Our first few readings have geared us right up for that haven’t they? These are joyous words to hear as we prepare for Christmas. It really gets you in the mood doesn’t it? Rejoice! God restores us! Those are the words that the prophet Zephaniah proclaims to the people of Israel and to us this morning. In Philippians, Paul advocates our joy and our ability to rejoice because our Lord is near – in all the ways that we can imagine.

We are to rejoice!

Truthfully – that is what we probably need to hear this year. We as a people, as a nation, are dealing with so much at this time now. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we are called to rejoice. When there are those trumpeting and ratcheting up fears of the unknown and the different. Whereas we embark on another political season – and realizing that we still have a little less than a year left – we again see the name calling, the anger, the accusations, the fudging of facts to placate constituents. We hear all of this again and again – from all people, sides, and parties – that it can be very easy to lose sight of the fact that we are to rejoice because the Lord is near.

What I find interesting about the texts that we hear this week, is how much they sort of line up with what we are living through right now. We hear words of joy, rejoice, peace, being non-anxious, and more from our first few readings this morning. When we hear all that we begin to feel really, really good. Things aren’t as bad as people are saying (and truthfully they aren’t).

Then, well then we get to hear from John the Baptist. When we hear from John the Baptist his words usually snap us back to where God might want us to be – into the reality of our life of faith.

The words that John the Baptist begins with aren’t really that fun. You brood of vipers! Who told you to run? The Lord is coming and the axe is at the foot of the tree! Ready and in wait to chop down those that don’t bear good fruit.

Always leave it to John the Baptist to scare the bejeebus out of people. His words are scary. They are frightening.

The people around John ask the same question that many of us would ask – and are asking. What are we to do? What can we do?

You see, this is the part of John that I really like. You’d think that because of how John’s speech plays out – these words that began last week as we heard about how we need to prepare the way of the Lord in our lives – and then this morning where John calls us out, you’d think that what John will ask of us would be pretty substantial. Those listening to him that day thought that it might be the following of the full list of Levitical laws and ordinances – more than 600 ‘rules’ that must be followed to be ‘right’ with God.

Well, as followers of Christ – as those who identify as Lutherans – we know that we can’t do anything to be ‘right’ with God. For we are already made right and whole because of what God has already done for us – in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. But, sometimes that is hard to grasp and understand and we still ask – what can we do – and we expect a laundry list of rules to follow.

So, as John begins his reply, I can imagine the many around him who are already preparing in how to ‘bend’ the many rules that he is about to lay upon them. How do those rules need to be interpreted, which ones truly apply? Which are the ones that are more important than others?

But, John doesn’t go that route. John has built them up and prepared them – prepared us – for a laundry list of guidelines to follow so that God would be – might be – content and happy with us.

Yet, the ‘rules’ that John gives to the people – gives to all of us – are the same rules that we have heard since kindergarten.

Be nice. Share. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t hurt people.

Seriously! What more were we expecting?

If you have excess in the possessions, you have – give to those who don’t. If you have a lot of ‘things’ – clothes and food – help those in need.

Then he directs his attention to tax collectors and soldiers – both groups that weren’t positively looked at because they tend to take in excess from the people around them. As John responds to their questions of ‘What are we to do then?’ his response can be summed up as – Don’t be jerks. Don’t hurt people.

Tax collectors are asked to do their job, but don’t squeeze more money out of the people you collect from. Soldiers are told to not be bullies.

The words that John shares with us this morning aren’t – on the outside – difficult things to follow. These are really the same things we have been hearing from our parents and teachers since we were born.

Be nice. Share. Don’t be a bully. Don’t hurt others.

But, as we see around us – those aren’t the easiest rules to follow. Sometimes we might want to follow some of those 600 or so rules from Leviticus – at least then there wouldn’t be so much ambiguity in how to live out that life of faith.

We hear these words from John this morning and we look at what’s going on in our world today. And we struggle – we struggle with how to live out these rules.

It’s hard to be nice to people that are mean or that you don’t agree with. I struggle with that as well – even as a pastor.

It is hard to share what we have with others – possessions, food, even money – because we don’t know if or when we’ll be in need and we’ll need that stuff then.

It’s sometimes pretty easy to ‘take advantage’ of someone – getting them to do the things we don’t want. Taking from someone because they accidentally scanned two cheap items twice and didn’t scan the more expensive item.

As we move into the holiday season and the time of being with friends and family it is easy to guilt them to spend more time with ‘us’ knowing that there are others they want to share their time with as well.

It’s hard to live out these words when we have those who speak so poorly about others that it feeds on our fear of the unknown and the different.

Yet, in those times we still turn to the words of Philippians and Zephaniah. Rejoice! Don’t worry! The Lord restores your life! Rejoice!

We are called to live out the words that John speaks this morning to us from the River Jordan. And we are truly able to live into that life and into that kind of faith – that faith that honors and loves and shows mercy to those around us. That life of faith that sees God at work in those around us. That life of faith that calls for trust in the one who is to come. The one that we prepare for. The one that we wait in expectant hope for.

Yes, the words that John speaks to us with this morning are some of the same things that we have heard from others for a long, long time – the same thing we tell our children and students all the time. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always natural. We worry, we fear the unknown and the future.

Yet, we are called to give to those in need. We are called to be kind to those around us. We are called to not hurt those before us.

We are called to do this – not so that God will be present in our life, but because of what God has already done.

Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ is here. Live out this life of faith because God is with you. Amen!

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