Sunday, December 16, 2018
Scriptures: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Isaiah 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7and Luke 3:7-18
As I mentioned last week, it’s not always the most pleasant thing to face the truth about ourselves. Don’t we often display a willful blindness to our own faults, to the point that we refuse to hear the truth about ourselves? Isn’t the truth about our self the most painful thing to hear? This is basically what John the Baptist is starting out with, according to our passage from the part of Luke 3 that we read.
There are times that the truth not only sets us free, it also makes new things possible, once the truth is out. The crowds that came out to John the Baptist were basing their good favour before God on the fact that they were from the lineage of Abraham. So John was pointing out to them that they can’t be looking at their own personal DNA, but at who they are right now. We know how enticing it is to want to know who our ancestors are and where they were from, by the mere fact that websites such as “ancestry dot com” and “23 and me” are such a hit nowadays. It’s all fine and exciting to have access to this information. The only thing is—what if I were wearing a Mexican sombrero because I was convinced that I have Mexican blood, only to discover that I’m actually much more Scottish than Mexican, and then trading the sombrero for a kilt? Who our forefathers are, says John, does not determine anything about who we are before God. Our history, our past lies in the darker recesses of what has been. Our present, who God made us to be now, that is what counts. The qualifier lies much rather in the type of lives that God is leading us towards right now. This truth-telling of John becomes refreshing and cathartic. John tells the truth out loud, even though he sounds a bit abrasive and judgmental. John brings good news in a bad news world.
Having become aware of what the truth is about us, and what the actual criterion is when we are made new by God, there are some brand-new possibilities that open up.
When we face the truth, new paths open up, we learn to act in new ways by reaching out to places where we would never have imagined to be able to make a difference. For example, going local such as reaching out to Richard SecordSchool, instead of global or removed and far away. This is actually where we can make an authentic difference. When we reach out to the hardships within our reach, the difference that Jesus makes, becomes very real. The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?” It really is simple, which makes it such good news. It is merely going to where our daily lives are. The good news of great joy seems to be that neighbours might share their coats and add a few chairs around their tables, that those who are out in the cold or stranded without a home might be sheltered. This makes God’s new reality increasingly visible. These actions make life a whole deal more liveable.
Slowly but surely this good news of God brings a deep-seated joy (Philippians 4) into a bad news world. In many churches, the penitential purple of the season is put aside this weekend, in favour of a lighter, happier rose-coloured candle. The lectionary readings call for flat-out celebration and worship. “Sing aloud!” the prophet Zephaniah instructs us. “Rejoice and exult with all your heart!” “Shout aloud and sing for joy,” says the prophet Isaiah. “Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously.”So where does joy come from? Maybe it comes from paying heed to the truth about us. It could be from the great relief of laying our burdens down. Maybe joy comes when we hear a shockingly painful truth about ourselves, so that we decide to listen rather than run.
Joy is not a mere sentiment. Joy is not happiness. Joy is not cheap. John tells the crowds who flock to him in the Judean wilderness to bear fruit—to bring it forth. But also, bear it—carry it, shoulder it, endure it. Yes, the fire before the winnowing fork hurts, but the One who wields the flame is trustworthy. He knows us. He sees us. He loves us. He will gather us with abundant joy. God delights in us as God’s children. This is the gospel, the good news that advent speaks of. Amen
Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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