Sermon Preached on Advent 3 by the Rev. Dr. Dolores E. Littleton, LMFT
Preaching Text: Luke 3:7-18
I like you I am struggling to make sense of this horrific tragedy that took place on Friday.
As a child of God – I do what we do best in times of trouble and heartache, pray and turn to the Word. And as I began to read the Gospel for this week – to find a word of grace of encouragement – I met up with John the Baptist. This time when we met John, he is crying out in the wilderness. He is trying to get the attention of a world that has moved far, far away from God and God’s word.
John lived in times where God’s people were being terribly oppressed. They did not enjoy the freedom to completely worship God as they wanted – as the Romans had all kinds of restrictions on the Jews. John lived in the world where secularism and practices from pagan religion – crept in to the mindset of the people of God everyday and everyday people were more concerned with living according to their own agenda’s rather than thinking about the will of God.
And because of this, the prophet John comes crying- “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
In other words -Sinners! All of you are Sinners! Separated from God. Where are you going? What are you doing? What are you looking for” What do you believe” What is your life counting for?
And the people hearing John speak in the first century got it – they got it – they understood and they ask John “What then should we do”?
And John told them what they should do. He told them to share — to be honest in their dealings – to not threaten anyone and to be satisfied with what they had.
And now it is December 16, 2012 – and John’s cry comes to us today. And it comes at this time of terrible unrest in the world and within our own land. The Middle East is sizzling like bacon in a hot skillet. Africa is simmering, North Korea is exulting in its ability to build a rocket that can be launched, and under our feet we have young people so thirsty for revenge that they spray bullets at people they don’t even know. A shopping mall in Oregon and in an elementary school Connecticut
And John cries, “Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?”
And can we? No, we must join the crowd in asking, “ John speak to us, tell us what we should do”?
What shall we do in the midst of such tragedy?
And there has been a variety answers from various people including our president saying we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
And there are folks blogging in Social Media and People calling in on radio talk shows weighing in all day– calling for gun control – calling for more supportive systems for mental health – people calling for more security in our schools – and the debate and the ideas and suggestions – are as many as there are people speaking up.
At 5 Pm last night as Governor Malloy of Connecticut addressed the residence of his state he called them to practice love – to have courage and to have compassion for one another.
Like the crowd, hearing John the Governor even asked the question aloud as part of his address on Sat night
So what can we do? Then the Governor said, “As was no doubt the case last night, we can hug someone we love a little tighter. As has been happening since yesterday, we can show and share with each other the grief we feel for the children and adults who were killed, and for their families and loved ones.”
Yes indeed Governor Malloy, our faith calls us to practice love – to be people of courage and to have compassion.
And this is what we can do now – today.
Yes the policies, and reviews of mental health and gun laws and security will eventually be part of our public discourse – but all of that is for another day.
Today, for now, lets love one another – encourage one another and help one another through difficult moments.
I am reminded of Martin Luther’s Hymn a Mighty Fortress – that last verse speaks to me of this tragedy or any time we go through challenging events.
“God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes, who fear it; for God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. If they take our house, goods, fame, child, or spouse, wrench our life away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom’s ours forever!”
Hatred – Evil – Violence – will not win the day – God’s word will abide for ever!
And so as we gather in church this 3rd Sunday of Advent – as we prepare to sing Joy to the World as our closing hymn we may find ourselves wondering, “Where is the Joy? Where is the Hope? Where is the Peace? Where is the Love? Where is Advent in this?
Advent is about God coming to us – it is about God taking on flesh and living in our midst. He is here in the midst of things we cannot understand. He comforts with His word and with the things we can do for ourselves and for one another.
John continues. He says we need to do something, “Bear fruit worthy of Repentance! Do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.’
If John the Baptist were standing in my place in this very pulpit he might say, ‘Don’t say you are a member of a church. Bear fruits! John gets real clear when the crowd asks him, “What shall we do?”
John replies, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
And so we collect items for mitten tree – we brings meals to the Life center and feed hungry people – we open the doors to the Social hall and provide shelter to the Homeless every February, we collected money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, we collect money and toys for a single mom who is having a hard time to make ends meet. We support our youth and adults feeling called to go to South Dakota to work with Lakota people.
And we love the best we can with what we have. Our attempt of bearing fruit that is worthy of repentance.
Tears weld in my eyes – when a young teacher began to question herself as she told the CNN news reporter that she gathered her class in a huddle and just hugged her little children and told them all that she loved them all very much. Then she became apologetic – and said, “I think I was not supposed to do that as a teacher but I rally thought that all of us would soon be dead and I wanted the children to die knowing that they were loved”.
That is what is John is talking about. He is all about doing the practical stuff of faith and life – doing the stuff that we know is right – from our gut – not worrying about what the manual says in Section 1 C .
And so John taught the people a little something about sharing their second coat – and about being honest in all of their relationships -and being satisfied with what they have.
And then with that, we are told that the people were filled with expectation. Some even questioned if John was the Messiah. He was clear that he was not. He told us that one is coming – one whom he was unworthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He spoke of Jesus.
Yes Jesus comes – he comes not into a Christmas card-perfect world
of loveliness and reverence, but Jesus comes into this rough world
of poverty and human trafficking, factory fires and mall and school shootings – a world where people suffer and die from cancer and heart disease and where accidents happen.
Here, in our grief and terror, and in our secret shame of who we human beings are, Jesus comes to show us God’s love and what we can be in Him. Yes, it is awful that such tragedies happen at Christmas time,
but no sooner do they happen than God comes among us, with healing and forgiveness, he comes to us as a child – He comes to us as the King with all things under His control. He comes saying, “I still love you, and I will be with you always.”
About a month a go our Sunday School started to learn a new hymn that I immediately thought of when I heard of this tragedy of Friday- and the words of the song reassured me –
Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains
Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me
On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains
Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me
And so today I realize that even as Governor Malloy instructs his people to love to have courage and to have compassion – that this is what the Gospel is calling me to do as well. Yes – as we do those things we will come to know the Joy of God’s abiding love.
As we love – have courage and have compassion we will be transformed into a people that will be able to truly celebrate Christmas and Sing the season with Joy.
So my dear friends – Go and bear fruits that are worthy of repentance – and in so doing you will know the joy of the Lord.