A Sermon Preached by Reverend Joe Moore
Zephaniah 3:17; Luke 3:7-18
During this service four children were baptised.
‘The Lord, your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory, He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you with his love; He will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.’
The Third Sunday of Advent, often referred to as Gaudete Sunday- rejoice Sunday! Or one of two Sundays in the year where the ministers get to where pink!
We have lit the third candle of our Advent wreath, the pink one, because its signals a shift in this reflective, penitential season of advent, this lighter hue, points to the nearness of Christmas, we are nearly there folks. Nearly there.
This Rejoice Sunday signals that the Incarnation of our Lord draws ever closer, and so we can take a breath, we can rest in the knowledge that the one who was promised, Immanuel, God with us, is soon to arrive.
(And what a Sunday to have 4 baptisms!) Our readings this morning are a mix of reminding us of the joy which is found in the love of God, but our gospel reading has a slightly different tone, John the Baptist preaching repentance-change the way you think, reminiscent of the words to Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol- Change your ways!
Now, I know what you’re thinking, Joe, I could really do with a more positive message this close to Christmas, what on earth is going on with a gospel reading that is so fierce.
More of that in a bit…
Advent is a time where we hear from the great prophets of the Old testament, Malachi, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Isaiah and Micah. Why do we hear so much from them over the Advent season, well because they are as much the voice of Advent as the Evangelist.
Prophets say what no one wants to hear, what no one wants to believe.
Prophets point in directions no one wants to look. They hear God when everybody else has concluded God is silent. They see God where nobody else would guess that God is present. They feel God. Prophets feel God’s compassions for us, God’s struggles with us, God’s joy in us. They dream God’s dreams and utter wake-up calls, they hope God’s hopes and announce a new future: they will God’s will and live it against all the odds. Prophets sing God’s song and sometimes interrupt the program with a change of tune.
Zephaniah’s song calls people to lament and repent.
Jerusalem is idolatrous and complacent, the nations are corrupt.
The prophet though affirms God’s presence with the people, affirming that God is and will continue to be in their midst.
What does God’s presence do for the people Israel?
It protects and it rejoices. The people will live without fear, trusting that God saves them from disaster and enemy attack. God’s presence does more than remove threats though.
God’s presence among the people is animating, in that God rejoices with them, renews them, and exults over them. God frees and strengthens the people.
John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus is drawing people to himself, with his preaching and his baptising.
He is calling people to repent. To change their ways. And today parents and Godparents, make that promise on behalf of the children. They will guide them, they will keep them on the path of goodness and light until they can speak for themselves.
Now in our gospel, People are presenting for baptism because that’s the things to do, it’s the new in thing, without realising that there is something that has to happen inside.
John calls the people, a brood of vipers, a bunch of snakes. What do snakes do?
They shed their skin, they shed the outside but the inside remains the same.
But baptism is not simply a shedding of skin, but a change of heart, a heart change, repentance, turning to the Light.
Three times John is asked ‘what should we do’? what then should we do, by three groups of people,
What should we do to lead a good life? What should we do that marks as out as followers of the way?
John is fairly laid back, fairly tame actually.
He expects people to act in a way that is fitting to their role, that is fitting to what they can provide for others. Fitting to their responsibility. Leaders, upholders of the law, those who have a duty of care to the other.
It’s basic stuff.
Yet how often is it the basics that we struggle with.
John is providing moral guidance to those who are seeking.
He is giving them an answer. What then should we do? And then what should we expect from others.
Love. Kindness. Generosity. Fairness. Integrity. These attributes tell of a people who are shaped by the goodness and mercy they have received from the living God.
Don’t cheat people, don’t abuse your power, don’t lie to those to whom you are accountable.
Be upholders of truth, of justice, be on the side of the oppressed, the powerless, the downtrodden. What would it look like if Battersea, if London, if our nation, our world, were shaped by such attributes, such attitudes, rather than profit, deception, and spin.
What would it look like if those in power looked to the one who came as helpless child, in humility and love, grew up, died on a cross and rose again because LOVE, PURE LOVE was the motivation?
Today we rejoice, for our Lord is near to us, near to us in the gift of Christmas, near to us by his Spirit, and near to us in his coming again when all show know the glory of God.
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