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Advent 3 December 13, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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ADVENT 3  Year C
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday December 13, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
It was the worst of times
and the best of times . . .
 
It was the 7th century
before the Common Era.
 
Corrupt, shameless leaders
          ruled in Jerusalem and Judah,
mercenary kings,
unjust judges,
faithless prophets,
profane priests . . .
 
oppressing and exploiting
the people God meant them to serve,
 
accumulating power and wealth for themselves,
          and consorting with the gods
                   of foreign peoples,
 
while hostile nations menaced
          the country from without.
         
The prophet Zephaniah
began his short book of writings
pronouncing God’s judgment
          on them all.
 
And yet he ended his book
urging the people
to rejoice:
 
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!”
 
For the Lord your God is in your midst.
God has taken away the judgments against you,
          and turned away your enemies.
God will remove disaster from you,
          and deal with all your oppressors,
          and restore your fortunes before your eyes.
 
A song of hope and expectation,
          of faith and trust in God,
a song of rejoicing
in what must have seemed
a very dark time.
 
The Prophet Isaiah,
somewhat later,
also decried
the faithlessness of Israel,
          the corruption and apostasy . . .
the arrogance, haughtiness,
          love of wealth and luxury . . .
                  
and the ever-present threat
          of aggression from enemy countries.
                  
And yet his song
is one of confidence.
 
The God who judges
is also the God who redeems.
 
“Surely it is God who saves me,
I will trust in God and not be afraid.”
 
“Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing
from the springs of salvation . . .”
 
A song of hope and expectation,
          of faith and trust in God,
a song of rejoicing
in what must have seemed
a very dark of time.
 
It was the 1st century
of the Common Era,
Jerusalem and Judah were
under the cruel occupation of Rome,
 
and the apostle Paul was in prison.
 
Yet he could write
to his beloved church in Philippi,
 
“Rejoice in the Lord always,
          again I will say, Rejoice!”
 
The authorities
wanted him off the streets,
wanted to stop his persistent preaching
          of the gospel . . .
the good news of Jesus . . .
 
joy
for those
hungering and thirsting
for a good word from God,
 
          a word of
          freedom, of justice, of mercy, of love . . .
 
but anger and concern
for those
charged with keeping the peace –
 
the Pax Romana, that is,
Rome’s peace,
imposed by conquerors
and maintained
by brutality.
 
The good news Jesus proclaimed
was of another peace, a true peace,
a peace which surpasses the world’s understanding,
the marvelous peace of God.
 
With that peace in his heart,
Paul could rejoice even in prison,
with who knows what suffering
          yet to come . . .
 
It was enough for him
to know the peace of God
that would always
guard his heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
 
So he could say to his dear Philippians,
“Do not worry about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.”
 
Do not worry,
give thanks and pray.
 
A song of hope and expectation,
of faith and trust in God,
a song of rejoicing
in what must have seemed
a very dark time.
 
It was the worst of times
and the best of times
          that time in the Roman occupation,
 
when that strange and urgent prophet
John the Baptist
roamed the wilderness
around the Jordan
calling the people of Israel to repent
and be baptized in the Jordan
          for the forgiveness of their sins.
 
They came,
crowds of them.
 
“You brood of vipers!”
he shouted,
“Who warned you to flee
from the wrath to come?”
 
“Why, you did,”
they might have responded . . .
but didn’t.
 
John suspected
they had come,
not out of a true desire
to turn,
and return to God,
          but out of fear . . .
          or an abundance of caution . . .
 
fear and caution
that never lead
to the transformation
God desires.
 
This is no time for
a half-hearted response.
 
Judgment is at hand.
 
One is coming
with winnowing fork
          to clear his threshing floor
to gather the wheat into his granary –
          and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
 
 Again it’s the same old story
of
the failure of God’s people,
to be God’s people.
 
But also again,
it’s the same old story of
God’s never-failing patience,
God’s never-ending faithfulness,
 
and the painful and merciful judgment of God.
 
The painful and merciful judgment of God
that burns away the chaff,
the foolishness and waste of our lives,
and transforms us,
 
and it hurts,
to be renewed in such love . . .
 
What then should we do?
 
We can cooperate with love,
          participate in what God is bringing into being;
We can ignore love,
          and go along our heedless way;
We can actively oppose love,
          and suffer the death of love-lessness.
 
John strongly suggests we cooperate.

What then should we do?
 
Take a good look at ourselves,
acknowledge our failings,
and bear good fruit for God . . .
 
Whoever has two coats,
or extra food,
or more room than needed,
must share with those who have none.
 
Whoever has authority or power
over others
must use it in service of others.
 
When we do these things,
we are wheat, God’s wheat,
bread for a hungry world.
 
John the Baptist
doesn’t call us to rejoice,
 
but his harsh words
are, as Luke says,
a proclamation of the good news,
a cause for rejoicing!
 
 John’s dire anticipation of the coming One
is paradoxically
a song of hope and expectation,
of faith and trust that God will act, is acting,
in what must have seemed
a very dark time.
 
Jesus the Christ
came into that time,
and that was the best news ever . . .
 
even though for him,
and for his followers,
there would be both good times and bad.
 
We who follow him
in this time
have known in our own time,
both the best of times,
and the worst,
 
and yet, on this Third Sunday of Advent,
the 21st century of the Common Era,
we also sing a song of rejoicing.
 
Our history,
the history of all the people of God,
teaches us that through
all the worst and best of times

God is faithful,
working God’s purpose out,
and God will eventually,
in God’s own time,
complete that work.
 
We are involved in something much bigger
than ourselves,
and
the time in which we live . . .
 
something that will culminate
in the second advent of the Christ,
the victory of God
and the establishment
of God’s glorious kingdom.
 
We can cooperate with it,
ignore it or actively oppose it . . .
 
but we can’t make it happen
or prevent it from happening.
 
God will be victorious.
 
While we prepare to celebrate
          the birth of Jesus,
this is the advent
          we joyfully await.