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.
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.
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
“Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete… Dominus prope est.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice… The Lord is near.” These are the opening words of the old Latin Introit for this Third Sunday of Advent: words from today’s second reading, which in turn are taken from the fourth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. The opening word of these verses gives the traditional name for this Sunday: “Gaudete” Sunday, “Rejoice” Sunday. Here, as we find ourselves just a little over halfway through our Advent journey, we rejoice that the feast of the birth of Jesus is near. That is why, in some high Episcopal churches, rose-colored vestments are used today, just as they are on the Fourth Sunday in Lent. (I’ll stick with my blue, thank you!) And that is why the customary color for the Advent wreath candle on this day is also rose – even though it usually ends up being pink.
“Rejoice… for the Lord is near.” While for us, that means that Christmas is coming soon, for Paul’s original audience in Philippi, it referred to their belief that the second coming of Jesus was near. Those two comings of Jesus provide the focus for the Advent season.
According to both Mark and Matthew, the core of John the Baptist’s message was the proclamation that “the kingdom of God has come near.” Jesus later echoed that same message as he began his own ministry. As the other prophets had proclaimed centuries earlier, God was coming in a new and definitive way.
The assertion that God is coming is one that demands a response from anyone who hears and understands and accepts it. The crowds who came out to John apparently caught the significance of what he was saying and its implications for themselves and for the world, and so they instinctively knew that they had to do something in response to that announcement. “What then should we do?” they asked him. It is the same question that the crowds in Jerusalem would later ask the disciples when the Holy Spirit had come upon them on Pentecost and they had proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection. “What then should we do?”
Well, what do you do when someone or something of importance to you is coming? You might make special preparations; but mostly, you tend to do the things that you could, or at least should, have been doing all along. If, for example, you get a call this afternoon that some relatives or old friends are coming to visit you over the holidays, you are probably going to get busy doing some extra cleaning around your house. You had meant to do it anyway, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. Now there is a sense of urgency. High school and college students who have semester exams coming up this week will, one hopes, be busy doing the studying that they know they should have been doing all along. Now they, too, have a sense of urgency.
So what do you do when you know that God is coming? That is what the crowds gathered around John wanted to know. Notice that John doesn’t instruct them to do anything extraordinary: no exotic religious rites, no extreme penitential regime. Instead, he tells them to do what they, as believing Jews, knew that they should have been doing all along: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” He tells them to care for those who are in need, no matter who they are, and to do so generously.
Notice that John doesn’t include some of the qualifications that some people, including so-called “religious” people, sometimes try to impose on their care for others. He doesn’t limit their active concern and their giving just to those who happen to have been born in the same country as they were, nor to those who happen to have the same faith as they do, nor to those who conform to their image of the allegedly “deserving poor.” He simply tells them to share their clothing and their food with anyone who needs them. That, John insists, is the way to get ready for the coming of God.
Jesus, in his life and ministry, will describe repeatedly what the world will be like when God comes, when the kingdom of God has been fully realized. It will be a world in which all will share freely in the gifts that God has given for the good of all. And, both John and Jesus insist, the time to begin making that world a reality is now. That is how you prepare for the coming of God.
In the midst of all the flashy glitz and hard-sell commercial emphasis that our society places on this season of preparation for the coming of Christmas, for the coming of God, it is wonderful to see believers like the people of St. Mark’s doing what John calls us to do. Recently, for example, those who have worked for years with the Fred Stott Fund have, with the Vestry’s approval, sent a generous donation to help buy coats and hats and gloves and school uniforms for children at Kemp School who need them but whose families cannot afford them. Many of our parishioners are actively engaged, as they are each year, in our Christmas Project, sharing what God has entrusted to them with families in our community who are in need. Yesterday, I was privileged to work with a group of teens from St. Mark’s and St. Christopher’s Churches, who are preparing for Confirmation; they spent the morning serving the needs of some our disadvantaged neighbors at St. Paul United Methodist Church’s Saturday Community Breakfast and Food Pantry. And after our service this morning, our younger children will be once again offering us their handmade craft items in order to raise money to buy books for some of our local homeless children.
These all are people who have heard John’s message and Jesus’ message as well. They have come to see in their lives and in this world the God who comes: the God of compassion who generously blesses and gives freely to us all. And, in response to the coming of that loving God, they have been generously sharing what they have with those in need. In general, they don’t even know who those people are; they wouldn’t recognize them if they saw them. But, in another sense, in a more important sense, they know exactly who they are: they are children of God, our own sisters and brothers; they are in need; and that is all that matters.
That is the “good news” that John and Jesus proclaimed: good news for us, good news for those whom we serve, good news for the world.