Third Sunday in Advent 2021

Third Sunday in Advent 2021

December 12, 2021 | Bryan Simmons

Passage: Luke 3:7-18

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    One of these days, I won't have to knock the microphone off my ear, taking my mask off.

    Well, quick question for you, as we're getting closer to Christmas, has anybody thought of their New Year's resolutions yet? Raise your hand. Well, I didn't think so. The lectionary kind of puts the cart before the horse here with this text, with John proclaiming against us as a People. Historically, John proclaiming against these children of Abraham, and telling them rightly that they don't deserve what they think they deserve. It's a text that causes us to to pause and reflect on who we are. And what we have done, or maybe are doing. And what we aren't doing. It causes us to take a look at our lives and think the same as these other people that came to John, "what should we do?" to bear fruit worthy of repentance.

    And it's kind of tricky, it's a fine line because we're not talking about what should we do to make ourselves worthy, we can't do that, right? We in the Lutheran Church are rather sensitive to that. We can't talk about it in terms of doing works to earn our worth in God's eyes. The whole point of the story of Jesus is that that is an impossibility for us. But it does give us pause to say: are we responding to the truth of the gospel in a way that benefits others, not just ourselves. And that's a little bit different.

    And I think there are a couple of different ways that we go about proclaiming the gospel. We can proclaim it in a positive way, or we can proclaim it in a negative way. And it's not always based on our intentions, but based on the perception of us. And I think for those of us in the Church, those of us that regularly are participating in this life of faith, there's a danger there in that we get a little too comfortable, we get a little too complacent. And the danger is that for us, I think we're more liable to proclaim in a negative way because of the comfort that we do tend to find. It's kind of a Catch 22, isn't it?

    And just like John, talking to these children of Abraham, who felt comfortable, they felt "in," that they were covered, they were fine. We have Abraham as our ancestor. John rightly says: God can make out of these very stones children of Abraham. And so it causes us to truly pause and think. What are we doing for the sake of the gospel? And you gotta love John, right? He's a preacher's dream, isn't he, Ryan? I mean, it's a shortest sermon ever, right? And he just comes right out and he says, "You scumbags." And they listen to him! He runs them down and they say, "well, what should we do? How should we change our lives? How should we prepare?" And it's rather basic things, right, it's -- if you have more than enough, give away your excess. If you're a tax collector, collect no more than than you owe or then they owe. Tax collectors had a reputation for taking more than what was demanded and pocketing the extra. And soldiers who have power and authority through force -- don't extort money by threats or make false accusations. In other words, do the basic things of caring for one another.

    But it's hard. And I think there's a burden that is that is placed on us who are believers -- who believe in the truth of this message? The Jesus born for you on Christmas Day died on a cross for you, rose again to new life in the resurrection, so that you may know the ultimate love of God and participate in that life of forgiveness and that hope of the resurrection yourself. To know the truth of life eternal now. The burden is on us to share that with others. And we can share that in a positive way or a negative way. I'm a pastor. I'm trained to proclaim the gospel. And I'd like to think that in that training I have been able to proclaim the gospel in a positive way, through preaching, teaching, interactions with others, so that they too may believe in the truth of Jesus. But I know that even as a pastor trained to proclaim the good news, I too am a scumbag! A little too excited there. We, too are scumbags. And I know that I have interacted with people poorly. And I know that I have sinned against others. And I know that I have caused people to doubt their faith. Or perhaps walk away from it altogether. Because of times that I have proclaimed the gospel negatively. And it's an awful feeling. And I'm sure we all have those moments in our lives where we have interacted with others and we have been excited when somebody has that "aha" moment that they get.

    The reality of this forgiveness that we talk about, that they understand this grace that is promised to us. That "aha" moment where they have this realization that -- yes, our hope IS in Christ. That we too live the power of the resurrection today. But I think we've also had those moments in our lives where. Aha! They know I'm a Christian, but they heard what I said. Where they saw what I did. It hurt them. Caused them to doubt. It's hard to think of those moments. The reality is that we who do believe, who as perceived as others ought to be the ones that act good and righteous all the time. The reality is that, yes, as John says, "we are scumbags."

    And yet, Luke says that this is good news, Luke says that this is an exhortation. Because the reality is, this isn't about being perfect, this isn't about being perfectly good. The reality is that we can't do that, and we do fail and we do stumble and we do hurt others. Even though we do lift others up, we are not the Christ. Our job as believers is to -- like John -- point to Jesus -- who is the perfect one. Who is the savior. Who is the bringer of salvation to us, so that we may know peace. We are not the Christ, we are not perfect. But when we do screw up, we can look to Christ for forgiveness, and out of that forgiveness and love, we can work to mend the relationships that we've hurt.

    We may not be able to mend every relationship on this Earth, but those we can trust to the Lord for ultimate love and care. But we can keep trying, we can keep proclaiming, we can live in this love and forgiveness with one another. And we can keep making our resolutions and failing at them and making more. Taking stock of what we are doing in this world to proclaim Christ in a positive way. It is Jesus who is the one that we point to. It is Jesus who is the one that we look forward to his return at some point, we don't know. But in the meantime, it is Jesus whose ultimate act of love and sacrifice is what we proclaim. Because we cannot base this on ourselves. It is the same Jesus that welcomes us to this meal that we share in the body and blood of Christ to strengthen us in this faith. We are not the Christ. But thanks be to God, that Jesus is. So when John runs us down -- as John is so righteous to do -- it IS good news. Because, yes, our own selfishness and our own greed can get in the way. But thanks be to God, it does not depend and rely on us for our own salvation. Jesus is the savior. Let us look to him. Let us point others to him. Let us show others that, yes, we are faulted just like they are, and they too can find forgiveness in the truth of Jesus. Amen.