December 23, 2023

December 17, 2023, The Third Sunday in Advent

December 17, 2023, The Third Sunday in Advent


John’s gospel describes Jesus as the “light of the world.” John the Baptist is presented as a witness to Jesus, one who directs attention away from himself to Christ, the true light.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ”
as the prophet Isaiah said.

24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.



On the third Sunday of Advent we light the pink candle, and rejoice.  Gaudete Sunday, meaning rejoice in latin, we take a break from the deep blues of Advent to wear pink – except the church calls it rose, not pink.  And the best argument I’ve ever heard for that is we call it rose because Jesus didn’t pink from the dead.

I was filled with Joy this week.  Watching and experiencing the overwhelming generosity of our members.  The generosity of people I’ve never met filled a need for our community.  The abundance that we are able to share is cause for rejoicing, even at the same time we lament the need for it.  I was overwhelmed with Joy – and just frankly overwhelmed – if you saw the state of my office.  I wanted to write you all letters and tell you how proud I am to serve a congregation that gives with generosity and compassion.  

But my pride?  That word kept sticking with me the wrong way…

Mary sings that God will fill the hungry with good things, no scratch that, you HAVE filled the hungry with good things.  You’d done it God.   Mary sings what she knows, what God has promised, and the joy that she holds fast to, in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.  

Mary echoes the prophets and the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel.  Mary is no naive and clueless teen mom according to Luke.  Mary is a young woman of vision, learning, artistry, and chutzpah. She interprets her life according to ancient patterns of divine action, and her song encourages us to do the same.  This fierce joy in her words, is anticipatory joy.  Even as she sings of the things God has done in the past, she’s just into her first trimester, the light of the word has yet to enter this world.  This advent theme of waiting is not passive waiting, but preparing and being prepared.  A pregnancy is a great example of active waiting.  (Thanks, God.)

  A body prepares itself without much help from us, but hearts and minds must prepare for what is to come.  

As usual, John the baptist is somewhat less than joyful.  But he is loud, insistent, humble, and forthright.  He’s not the light.  He’s not this main thing.  He’s just a guy, baptizing people, and telling them that the light of the world is coming.   John’s words ringing in our ears keeps us firmly grounded in the truth of our joy.

In our joy, are we self-congratulating or humble?  All these wonderful things that the church can do, and our church does.   What are we pointing to?  What is our Joy for?  Who is our joy for? 

Our joy does not point back at ourselves.  We are not Jesus.  We are not Saviours.  We are not infallible.  We are not omniscient.  One of the costliest mistakes the historic Church has made is to claim identities, powers, and privileges that don’t actually belong to us.  When we Christians adopt messianic ambitions for ourselves — either personally or corporately — we hurt ourselves, we hurt others, and we hurt the cause of Christ.  (Debie Thomas)

When we come in thinking we need to save people or save churches, we leave Jesus and the holy spirit out of the equation. 

It’s not about us.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play.  Both Paul and Isaiah had deep confidence in God’s ultimate saving work, and the role of the community in celebrating that salvation, and the promise to come.  

Joy is a core theme for Paul, but Paul is able and willing to look trouble squarely in the face. Because “he always regards the troubles of the world as penultimate, because beyond such vexations are the capacity and readiness of God to work a newness that is not a reshuffle of what is old. Thus Christmas joy is based in the long game of God’s rule over all evil, including the ultimate evil of death. For that reason, Christmas joy has Easter on its horizon. This is the same Paul who later on will write: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God … not even death” (Romans 8:38-39) (Walt Brugemann)

God’s long game includes Joy and safety in the wilderness – despite hardship.  God’s long game includes Rebuilding after devastation, repairing the ruins.  This is God’s continuing work that we are called to, this work of joy.  healing.  repairing.  restoring.    But it is God’s work – with our hands, the current tagline of the ELCA.   

The church’s social ministry is not our own.  We do this work because it is God’s work, and in our work we do not point to ourselves, but to God.  The holy spirit empowers us for this work.  

Our budget is not balanced.  But we have beautiful music and children drumming out their joy.   

We need a new roof.  But this building houses communities of repair and restoration like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, and ministries of feeding and care.  

There are less people in the pews than there were five years ago, but there is no less joy.  There is no less love.  There no less faith in God’s promises.  

In all we do together, we joyfully point to the one who is coming into the world.   The one who has come, and will come again.  The light, and the love of God in flesh, in all we do.  

“And all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.”  Isaiah 61:9b


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