Gospel: Luke 3:7-187John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
I’ve been a home-owner for 14 years. I’ve owned three different homes. Each in various communities and each in various states of remodeling, refinishing, and restoring. While the projects sometimes begin as a joyful dream, sometimes they begin because the wiring in the house is about to start a fire because of a leak in the roof. Sometimes it’s a straightforward fix, and it goes according to plan with a beautiful result – other times one project turns into 15 separate projects because nothing is square in this old house. Usually at some point in the process I’m complaining and someone says to me “Ah… the joys of homeownership”
But there is joy. The joy I had when we found out we were pregnant and I put together a nursery piece by piece. The joy in my daughter’s face when we turned her nursery into a Big Girl Mermaid Room. For all the back breaking work my husband did while I was 8 months pregnant, we have a gorgeous brand new bathroom that my daughter takes a bath in every night. Each time I decorate the mantle in our fireplace for Christmas, I remember that we painstakingly exposed all that hidden brick behind plaster and it’s a beautiful place to hang stockings. The joy I had when we finally refinished all our floors and my daughter just learning to walk would avoid splinters and tacks. The joy when I think about tackling our kitchen next and hosting family dinners. The memories we have made and the work we’ve done together is something I celebrate.
Making a home is a joyful challenge, involving blood, sweat and tears. It is never done. Always something to address, fix, or replace. But our home is never finished because our earthly home isn’t a final destination. It’s where life happens. For some it’s about the pets buried in the backyard and the pencil marks on the kitchen wall showing how tall the kids have grown. For others it’s about the meals we’ve shared at the table, whether birthday celebrations or casseroles to comfort our grief. Home is where we live out the whole tapestry of human existence, good and bad, mundane and extraordinary, trivial and overwhelming.
Our hope and our promise is that God will finally bring all God’s children home. The prophet Zephaniah holds onto this hold in the midst of exile. …. I will save the lame and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.
20At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
That’s our hope and our promise – that God will act as God has acted before. The Season of Advent is full echoes of refrains from across the library of the Bible – looking back and riffing on the words of the prophets to describe God’s action in the present. John knows the stories of God’s people and the way God has acted in the past, and knows that a new thing is about to happen…. And because Advent is not just about baby Jesus being born, but about Christ’s coming again, we can also turn to scriptures to help us think through what God is about here and now.
Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called “Gaudete” or “Rejoice” Sunday in the liturgical calendar, because it’s a day when we anticipate and celebrate joy — God’s joy in us, and our joy in God’s salvation. In many churches, the penitential purple or royal blue of the season is put aside in favor of a lighter color, pink or rose. In the midst of our apocalyptic scriptures – reminding us that God is revealing something and uncovering something – we pause to see the Joy in it. With anticipatory joy, we look towards the future where God makes a Home for All.
So just like the crowds John addresses with his prophetic words – we’re left with the questions = Well what do we do in the meantime? If Christ will come again, and we are promised this, what’s our role? John’s words are clear. Bring joy and honesty to your daily life and work. Give out of your abundance. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” To make a home for all, involves giving up something I want to make space for another.
John the Baptist’s words at face value do not seem to be joyful – but joy is different from happiness or cheerfulness. And the joy is for all. In John’s warning there is also joy for those who do not fit with the in-crowd, the family, the Jewish people, and those with a pedigree going back generations. And as the crowds are pondering in their hearts what all this means, John goes ahead and says what everyone is thinking – It’s not me. But the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Unquenchable fire doesn’t seem that joyful either – but John is not talking about punishment. His theme has been cleansing. Refining. Removing impurities, and being washed and prepared. Separating wheat from the chaff is not about judgment, good wheat versus bad wheat. The unquenchable fire is not about punishment – but cleansing.
The one who is coming will have the ability to save the wheat and get it ready to be used, removing all the outer parts which are not helpful or edible or good for anything but a warm fire. The goal is not to judge the wheat, but to save it all.
This is good news worthy of rejoicing, that we have a savior. We may not feel generous or able to share, we may be skeptical and wary of others, we may be tempted to get ahead at all costs in order to protect ourselves and our interests – our Savior frees us from those things, and sets us free for the sake of the good of our neighbor. Our savior frees us from that which would hold us back, from that which we are unable to unbind ourselves to. God is at work doing that, God is at work and will be at work making this home for us. Jesus tells us there is already a place prepared for us, and he will and has shown us the way. He shows us the way of loving sacrifice.
This is all cause for Joy – and Joy demands to be shared. And it’s a joy that you can participate in. Making a home is a joyful challenge, involving blood, sweat and tears. The blood has been shed, for you – and we receive the foretaste of that great joy here around the table. A home has been prepared for you – may you be empowered, cleansed, and set free, to help another feel at home. Amen