A Reading from the Book of Zephaniah (3:14-20)
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
The First Song of Isaiah — Isaiah (12:2-6)
Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians (4:4-7)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (3:7-18)
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
This week, Mark and Micaela and over 170 of their classmates in the seventh grade are about to have a new experience. This Wednesday through Friday, they will, for the first time, be having semester exams. This series of tests has been on their schedules since school began back in August; but when you are hanging out at the pool enjoying the sun and warmth of August, December seems a long way off.
When the school year began back in late summer, the kids and their friends were getting themselves ready for their first year in Junior High School. They were looking forward to it with eagerness and anticipation and at least a little bit of nervousness. And they saw this transition from elementary school to the “big school” as a chance to make a new beginning. “This year, things will be better. This year, I’m not going to put off doing my projects until the last possible day. This year, I’m going to do my best on all my assignments and make sure that they are ready on time. This year, I’m going to keep myself and my notebooks organized. This year, I’m going to do all my required reading as soon as it is assigned.” And so on, and so on, and so on.
It is great to start off a new part of life, or even a new school year, with those sorts of resolutions. But the real challenge comes, not in making those resolutions for the coming year, but in actually following through on them on a day by day basis. It is easy to decide to do your homework first when it is still early August, and school is still a couple of weeks off. It is a lot harder to do it first when you head out the school doors at the end of the day, and you are tired, and you and your friends want to hang out for a couple of hours, and there is somebody you want to talk to or text, or you just plain want to relax and fool around. Resolutions are always hardest when we get to the specifics: when we are faced with actually putting them into practice on any given day.
That experience is not limited to students, and it is certainly nothing new. In the gospel story that we heard today, St. Luke starts off with a general picture of the crowd’s response to the preaching of John the Baptist. They flock to him, ready to be baptized and to respond to his call to repentance and change of life. But quickly, Luke has John’s teaching shift from the general to specifics: to ways that particular groups need to put that general call into practice in their daily lives. John speaks first to the crowds, then, more specifically, to tax collectors, then to soldiers. He is fully aware that the real challenge comes, not in some vague conversion experience, but in the daily living out of what we have resolved.
All of us face the same sort of challenge in life. We are good at making plans and resolutions for the long run: for next semester or for next season or for next year. Where we run into problems is in following up on those decisions today. I know that I can decide to do almost anything over the coming year; where I run into problems is in doing it now.
Last Sunday, I spoke with you about our diocese’s stated objective for the coming three years: “to form and transform disciples of all ages to know Jesus and put the Gospel story into action.” And I mentioned that our Vestry is exploring ways that we, as a parish, can pursue that same objective over the coming year. We will be talking about how to do that again at this week’s Vestry meeting.
But, because that resolution is so basic to who we are called to be and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus, it is not something just for Diocesan Conventions and Vestry meetings. We each need to decide how we can contribute to that effort on a daily basis, how we can work toward that common goal. And when we decide how we are going to do it, then – and here comes the hard part – then we actually need to do it day-in and day-out. There is where the real challenge comes: not in our theory, but in our daily practice.
One key way, one essential way, of enabling us to make our good intentions a reality is the practice of beginning each day with prayer. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to follow a particular format. We simply need to take a few moments to put ourselves consciously in the presence of God, to thank God for our many blessings, to ask God to be with those we love and those in need, and to ask God to help us follow through on those things that we know we ought to be doing that day, the things we have promised to do.
You don’t have to use a set formula. However, if you would like a particular prayer that does just that, I just happen to have one for you. Conveniently, it also happens to be one that every one of you already knows, in one form or another, maybe even in multiple versions. It is one that begins by putting us consciously in the presence of God, asking first, not for what we want from God, but for what God wants from us: that God’s name might be held sacred, that God’s kingdom might come, and that God’s will might be done throughout the world and, more specifically, in our lives. Then it focuses on what we need, not next year, but today: God’s help in doing what we know we need to be doing, not in some long-term, abstract plan, but today. “Give us today our daily bread.” It concludes with asking that we might be forgiven, that we might forgive and accept others, and that we might be delivered through whatever temptations we might have to face.
The Lord’s Prayer is one that, like the preaching of John the Baptist, begins with the general view, with the broad view; but it then focuses on the place where the real problems are: on today, on putting our good intentions into practice, not in some abstract, theoretical, imagined future, but today, in the life that we actually live.
As we move over the next week toward the celebration of Christmas and over the next two weeks toward the beginning of 2013, some of us might be thinking about one or more New Year’s resolutions. But, if they are really worth keeping and if we want to have any hope of actually keeping them, I suggest that our first resolution be to include among our first activities of each new day, a short time of prayer. There we will find a place to pause for a few moments in the presence of God, thanking God for each new day and for the blessings that it holds, and asking God to help us carry out the mission that we have been given as followers of Jesus – not during the coming year, but in the most difficult time of all: today.