Sunday, Dec. 12, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 3:7-18 & Phil. 4:4-7
Today is the third Sunday in Advent, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. It’s taken from the Latin word Gaudete, which means rejoice. Gaudete in Domino Semper – Rejoice in the Lord always. These words are taken from Philippians 4:7, and they encourage us not to worry about anything, but to pray, to take our concerns to God and the peace of God, which surpasses or transcends or goes beyond our understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. It sounds wonderful doesn’t it? To live a life that rejoices in the Lord always. But let’s be honest, most of us don’t feel like rejoicing all the time, especially when things are going wrong in our personal lives and in our society.
Three years ago tomorrow is the anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, CT. At the time I was serving my internship in ND and I could barely believe my eyes and ears when I heard the news. I grew up right near where that happened. I had friends who lived in Newtown. I walked those quiet streets many times, and that news devastated me as it did so many others. Three years later, here we are hearing more and more school shootings, and other such tragedies. Gun violence has increased and people are afraid, which leads to even more violence. It hardly seems like we have anything to rejoice about does it? We long for joy. We long for peace, the kind of peace that we hear in Philippians that surpasses all understanding. But we’re looking for it in all the wrong places and things.
A few days ago as I was walking out of a small hardware store, an elderly gentlemen was walking out next to me. He looked to be about 75 or 80 and reminded me of my grandfather. In fact, he probably was somebody’s grandfather. We exchanged smiles and as he walked out of the store in front of me something fell out of his coat pocket and fell to the ground with a distinctive metal sound. I looked down, and for those few seconds I was frozen. The man quickly turned to pick up the black handgun and said, “that’s my piece.” He walked away and I couldn’t forget what he said all week, “that’s my piece.” While that’s what guns are often called, I couldn’t help but wonder, “ is that the kind of “peace” we really want?”
I’m not here to advocate for the destruction of all guns. I realize there are many hunters in this congregation and there is nothing wrong with that. But when we walk around arming ourselves out of fear, believing that weapons are going to bring us peace, safety, and security, we are deluding ourselves. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “the only thing to fear is fear itself.” Yet that is exactly what we as individuals, society, and a nation are doing. We are allowing fear to rule our lives. Many people today are listening to the popular voices of people who are telling them what and whom we should fear. They are advocating hate, and prejudice. They are vilifying innocent people.
That’s a temptation that plagued even the people that John the Baptist preached to generations ago. He said to one of the crowds, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Here they were coming to him to be baptized and yet they were afraid. They were listening to the voices of people who were telling them things that were contrary to God’s words of truth and justice. They were afraid, but John the Baptist said that God is able. God is able to raise up even stones to be faithful disciples because God is more powerful than anything we can try and wrap our minds around. God’s power surpasses what we can possibly comprehend. God’s power, God’s word is mightier than any force on earth.
Yet we, like the crowds that John the Baptist encountered, ask the same question, “What should we do?” “What should we do when there seems to be so much to fear? What should we do when everything seems to be falling apart? What should we do when there seems to be so much darkness surrounding us? We hear John’s voice speaking the word of God: Share what we have with others, be fair and not greedy with what we have, and be thankful for what God has blessed us with. John reminds us that we have been blessed with more than we realize and we can only see that if we keep our focus on the One for whom we wait in this Advent season our savior, Jesus the Christ.
We do that through remembering the gift of our baptism. For through those cleansing waters the guilt of our sins was taken away. We were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Through our baptism we were united with Christ and the question that John the Baptist continues to ask today is, “what difference does that make in your life? What difference does that make in my life?” As children of God, disciples of Christ, does the life we live bear witness to Christ? Is it evident in our actions that we are followers of Christ? Do we bear fruits worthy of repentance?
John is convicting us to take a close look at ourselves. And if we are honest, we know that the truth is that we do not always bear good fruits. Out of our fears we forget who we are and we don’t share what we have. We aren’t always thankful, but instead think of what we don’t have. We don’t always love our neighbors, but instead pass judgement on them. We lose our patience, our tempers, our way. We get lost in the darkness.
Mother Theresa new all about darkness. I recently saw the movie, The Letters, about the life of Mother Theresa, who heard God tell her to care for the poorest and most forgotten people in India. She left the safety of her cloistered life and lived among the poor showing them God’s love and compassion. Yet Mother Theresa experienced so much emotional and spiritual darkness. This was hard work and she often felt so alone. Yet, she kept on bearing good fruit by doing what God was calling her to do despite the heavy darkness she constantly felt. Many people here feel they are living under a heavy cloud of darkness and I have felt that darkness too, but God is able to work through that darkness and it does not need to stop us from witnessing the love of Christ to others.
That is the Good News that John reminds us of today. Our lives as Christians may not always be easy, but through our daily repentance – our daily turning back to God – they are lives that bear good fruit. What should we do? We are to turn around, turn back to God, and begin again. That is the gift of grace we received through the sacrament of baptism. Before you leave the sanctuary today I invite you to dip your hands in the baptismal font and pause and remember your baptism. Remember the promises that were made for you, that you made, and that God made. You are God’s child and God loves you. God loves you; pause and treasure that. Carry that with confidence.
We receive God’s gift of grace receive through the sacrament of Holy Communion. When you receive that gift today, when you hold Christ in your hand, pause and treasure that gift. Remember he died for you. He rose for you. And Christ will come again for you and for me. He will not abandon us; we have nothing to fear.
Through these gifts of grace we receive God’s gift of forgiveness and the promise that God is with us always. We can begin anew each day. In doing this we find reason to rejoice even in the midst of troubling times. Happiness relies on our situation, but joy is found in God. The joy found in God is what brings us true peace no matter what the circumstances. It is a peace that surpasses or transcends all understanding. As we continue our Advent journey to Bethlehem let us journey in the peace of God. The peace of God changes us and the peace of God can change the world. That kind of peace is reason to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” Amen.