First Lesson: Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Responsive Reading: Isaiah 12: 2-6
Second Lesson: Philippians 4: 4-7
Gospel Lesson: Luke 3: 7-18
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Sunday, I attended church at our sister church in Stacy, Minnesota in Saint John’s Lutheran. During the sermon Pastor Ed Wheatley told the tale of a funeral for a woman named Dolores that had happened the day before. No matter how many funerals you’ve attended, I bet you’ve never attended a funeral like this one. Dolores had a grandson let’s say in his early 20’s that was going through some rough times in life. The grandson had been spending the last few weeks before his grandmother’s funeral protesting down at the fourth precinct in Minneapolis regarding the police shooting death of Jamar Clark. The grandson becomes overwhelmed by all the emotions of the past few weeks at his grandmother’s funeral. The young man pretty soon cannot be calmed or controlled by those within the church. The local police had to be called in to constrain him. Words were doing no good, so the cops had no choice but to fire rubber bullets at the young man inside the church as a way of hoping to restrain him. Pastor Wheatley commented that this was the first known shooting in the history of the church.
What this story highlights is the uncertainty of the world around us. The most common of occasions can quickly turn into the scariest of realities.
This story brings us into the frame of mind for our advent season. We might not be able to explain Advent well, but the message of Advent is the darkness that is all around us. You see this darkness when you turn on the nightly news, we encounter this darkness when you experience people’s personal pain with no good words of comfort, and we are seemingly often overwhelmed with senseless death. What we must remember is that at times such as these is that our expectations of this world are ultimately not God’s expectations.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Luke 3. It contains a story from the life of John the Baptist. In the lesson for today, some very interesting people approach John the Baptist to ask the question “What sir shall we do to inherit eternal life?”
These were not the type of men that you would expect to approach John the Baptist. These men approaching was the equivalent of members of ISIS coming near a prominent Christian minister today to inquire regarding the significant answers of life and death. The men that approached John the Baptist were tax collectors and soldiers who worked for the hated Roman government. These men made their living as reverse Robin Hoods stealing from the poor to give to the rich. These men were the Pro-Wrestling villains who everyone boo’s as soon as they walk into the arena. Here they were coming to locust-eating, wilderness living John the Baptist.
This was a definite clash of extremes when it came to how they viewed the world: power versus piety. While these men might have seemed like a strange sight in the presence of John the Baptist. These social and religious outcasts were the type of men whom John often preached. John preached to the riff-raff of society. John preached to misfits. Plenty of people probably didn’t want John the Baptist to go to the types of people that he went to. John is preaching to those who endure the struggle between judgment and hope nearly every single day of their lives. John’s aim is to break down the walls of spiritual pride that exist within so many by bringing grace to those society deemed to be the most heinous of sinners. John is saying to these people that God does not see you like everyone else may see you.
John’s whole preaching is about seeking to prepare those within the world for a stronger, better world. John is seeking to prepare people for the one who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist is seeking to remind people that the future is less uncertain than it may seem.
The big story of the last week was the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The aftermath of the shooting was predictable with people’s instant reactions having to do with either redoing our gun policy or immigration policy. These responses seem to me to miss the mark as the mess in San Bernardino isn’t a problem that we can easily fix by assigning free-will to inanimate objects, nor by only allowing the right kind of people into this country versus the wrong type of people. What the San Bernardino shooting reminds us is that the world is how much of an epidemic that sin is in the world around us even as people fight their hardest to deny its existence.
In the wake of the shooting a headline in the New York Daily News blasted out “God isn’t fixing this?” The problem with headlines such as this is they assume that God is standing idly by as the world descends into darkness. The problem that too many people have is they believe Adam and Eve never fell from a tree, so they don’t know how to respond to events such as these other than blaming certain people or even God himself. What the headline failed to recognize is what our Gospel lesson for today tells us about God’s response to sin and evil.
On this day, John the Baptist was preaching to a fractured world. John the Baptist was still inviting his people’s worst enemies into his presence. John the Baptist was seeking to give them a way forward in the midst of their despair. John the Baptist was seeking to proclaim that even when times are the darkest, the savior is on the horizon. The savior who would soon be known as Jesus was coming not just to judge the world but ultimately grant unto the world forgiveness.
Today in our Gospel lesson the tax collectors and soldiers ask, “What must we do?” These are the questions that plenty of people have been asking within the last week as people debate hot-button issues such as gun control and immigration. What might John the Baptist preach to us on this day as we grapple on this day? John would tell us to repent of the spiritual pride that we cling to claiming to have all the answers. We must remember that whenever we enter into any discussion that WE ARE NOT GOD!
We must acknowledge that as broken as the world around is we do not have the power to fix it. Our limited power though does not mean that we lack hope. We do have hope! This hope is soon about to come down from heaven by way of a child. John the Baptist’s preaching on this day is to those who came to him wanting change. John’s preaching is for those who yearn for a new way of life.
How can we make sense of this Advent season? How do we make sense of a world filled with shootings and political discord? As stated by C. J. Green Advent is “a season that reminds us that there has to be death before there can be life. There has to be struggle before there is triumph.” No one in this room has survived 30, 40, 50, 60 years of marriage without our sorts of challenges coming before you together. What Advent reminds us is that no matter how much the world surrounding you, might be beating you down that there is hope that is present as we gaze unto the sky looked at by shepherds at night. Advent serves as a reminder that the time of death must occur before the day of resurrection.
I want to close this morning by telling you the story of the Mayfield family. The Mayfield family’s year was a disaster. Both parents had to quit their jobs. Mom had a really traumatic pregnancy, nearly dying at child birth having to he hospitalized for several days. They had to move across the country saying goodbye to friends and a job they loved. The newborn baby never did learn to sleep any good. Their van died for good. They were forced to move to a cramped, apartment. Dad got a new job, but debt still reigned supreme. Every month they hoped they could get off food stamps, yet it hasn’t happened yet. Mom working as a writer struggled to compose her thoughts to paper. Both Mom and Dad struggled with sleep. The Mayfield’s were so beaten down by it all that they became increasingly isolated from their family and friends. Every day became a fight for survival. Everything that could have gone wrong in the last year did go wrong. Worst of all a car had crashed into their daughter’s bedroom wall. After a few days away from the worst home life that anyone could imagine, the Mayfield’s returned to their apartment.
The Mayfield’s in the midst of disaster begin to see the signs of hope. They see hope whenever they see the baby’s dimples. They see hope whenever their daughter makes new friends. They see hope when neighbors drop by food that they’ve never tasted before. They see hope when the newborn baby begins to crawl. They see hope when their life comes together enough to show up in a church on a Sunday morning.
You see as the Mayfield’s had a year that was probably worse then your year they came to realize something about their lord and savior, Jesus never left their side. Jesus stood beside them in the arena that we call “life.” You see Advent is above all else a season of hope. Within Advent, we come to terms with the most complex of human emotions: the sadness of the forthcoming holiday season, the waiting for things to turn around; and the longing for all things to be made new.
As I reflect on our Gospel lesson for today, I reflect upon the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Advent reminds us that as shootings take place all around us, as Politicians say all kinds of nasty things about each other, as the worst of sinners stand before us. As the world around us crumbles, something different lies just around the corner. A new birth is on the horizon. Christmas is indeed coming soon. Amen
 The story comes from Pastor Wheatley’s December 6th, 2015 sermon at Saint John’s.
 Luke 3:16
 The headline comes from the December 3rd edition of the New York Daily News
 Burk, Denny. “Christmas means that God is fixing this”. Denny Burk.com. 3.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.12.2015.
 Luke 3:10
 Green, C.J. “The Life, Death, Life Cycle”. Mockingbird. 9.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.12.2015.
 Mayfield, D.L. “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.” DL Mayfield.com. 9.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.11.2015.
 Mayfield, D.L. “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.”
 Mayfield, D.L. “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.”
 Mayfield, DL. “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.”
 Isaiah 9:2