Promising Promises

The Pas           Advent 3

Year C

16 December 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Canticle 3 Song of Thanksgiving Isa 12:2-6

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

God who winnows the wheat from the chaff: let the fir of your Spirit purge us of greed and deceit, so that, purified, we may find our peace in you and you may delight in us. Grant this through him whose coming is certain and who day draws near, Jesus, the Lord of the harvest. Amen.

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Today, I’m reminded of how much, and how often we are reminded of the promises that God makes to each one of us.

In the reading from the prophet Zephaniah, for today, we see that he uses beautiful and flowing language. To remind us of God’s promises, he uses the language of forgiveness, language, of joy, and of rejoicing; language of return, and of love.

““Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph 3:16b-17)

And when we face the harshness of a world that looks at Advent only as a runner up season to Christmas, and Christmas as only a one-day event, such promises, such flowing and love laden language is important to us, in our hustle and bustle, in our Christmas lists, and Santa visits.

It’s important to remember in our hearts that, although he world doesn’t look at, look to God, God looks at us and actively participates in our lives, to boot.

Zephaniah puts God’s message of love into words that remind us of the depths of that love. Love that is revealed in the coming of the Messiah, in the teaching and in the actions of the Christ as we strive to remind our hearts that there’s so much more to Christmas, to the celebration of the birth of the Christ child into the world than bright lights, sparkly tinsel, and packages wrapped with coloured paper.

That reminds us of so much more than cleaning and baking and preparing to host, or to be hosted in family gatherings all around the world.

Rather there is the coming of the Messiah, into the world. A coming that the powers of the day feared, and the people of the day hoped would be with military might and hosts of angelic battalions to make Israel free from her oppressors.

But our gospels, as a whole story, tell us that this isn’t the case. They tell us that God puts love and relationship ahead of military might. They tell us that God’s revolutionary and life changing assault to bring freedom to our lives is one where people are enslaved, heart and soul to something that is not of God. But God states often and openly that this isn’t the case, and we are able to see this in Zephaniah’s prophesy.

We are able to see this in John’s exhortations to the people, today, on how to live Christ centred lives, caring for ones neighbour and letting go of those habits that continue, today, to hold us back from fully embracing the love of God, the reality of such a life for ourselves, for our lives, for our hearts, for our interactions with each other, every day.

But it’s not a list of rules and regulations that John proclaims. It’s not a compilation of ‘do’s and don’ts.’ rather it’s an appeal to each of our hearts.

It’s the hope that, like a musician learning a piece of music they’ll something of the composer. Or by reading we’ll learn something of the author.

For example, Beethoven’s best and most loved music was written after he lost his hearing. In this stage of his composing, we find passion and emotion that he couldn’t express, in his life, in any other way.

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, he was on the verge of bankruptcy, and was facing some of the societal horrors that he was describing in his Christmas Ghost laden tale. Horrors that were overcome, in the tale by the salvation of Ebenezer Scrooge into a compassionate and generous man, but in his own life, by the sale of his book.

In the words of the gospel, today, we find John not just exhorting people to seek repentance, but at the same time, offering guidance to those who seek it, those who are looking for a way forward, a way to embrace the changes that we, that they, are seeking.

And they’re not seeking these changes to their lives because it’s a good fashion accessory for our lives like a new wall treatment, or a new vase.

These people, who come to John, at the River Jordan, were not seeking changes to the patterns of their lives because John is warning people that the old ways will no longer provide a way forward into God’s grace.

Rather, to those who express heartfelt desire to make changes in their lives, John is providing what we call, today, spiritual direction, advice, so that those wishing to make changes to their lives have that chance.

In our own lives, we’re able to look back, longingly, to those older ways when families gathered, when we worshipped, many generations in the same church at the same time, but John is looking at so much more than such positive family practices.

Instead, John is talking about patterns of how we live our lives in and to the world, yet, at the same time, we seem to ignore the needs, the states, the conditions of our fellow human beings.

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”” (Lk 3:12-14)

So, what does this mean for each one of us? How will we, in the midst of our hustle and bustle, in the middle of our preparations for Christmas, for guests, for family, for gifts for young and old express John’s teachings, embrace Zephaniah’s words?

Will we gravitate to Zephaniah’s words of hope and salvation? Words designed to help us to look to the uncertainty of the future, not knowing when these words of prophesy were going to come to pass, yet still needing to find that light at the end of the tunnel.

Zephaniah tells us: “14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
    he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
    never again will you fear any harm.” (Zeph 3:14-15)

Or, will we look to John’s words, John’s urging each one of us to repent, to change the negative patterns of our lives because the arrival of the Messiah is imminent. And those ‘old choices,’ those decisions with which we make an uncomfortable peace in our hearts, ‘because everyone is doing that’ will be visible to the one who sees each of us through the eyes of divine love will only lead us astray, in the long run.

Will we make heartfelt changes, turning to the love of God?

Or will we make surface changes, bowing to the necessity of society that tells us that the important thing is the quality of the gift wrap, and the value of the package that is so beautifully bedecked with bows and ribbons, under our extravagantly decorated trees.

But at the same time, in the hustle and bustle of today’s lifestyle, it’s so easy to ignore the coming of the Messiah as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, in the manger, surrounded by starlight and angel song, visited by shepherds, and anticipated with joy by wise men from around the world.

In the hustle and bustle of this anticipated remembrance, this miraculous birth, we’re able to forget that Christ will come again, and that, once again, the words of the prophets, the proclamation of John are still words of anticipation and hope for each one of us.

Zephaniah, today, reminds us: “16 On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

18 “I will remove from you
    all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
    which is a burden and reproach for you.” (Zeph 3:16-18)

And John proclaims, from the midst of the Jordan River, about the coming Messiah, “17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.”

John describes to us how Jesus will strip away the layers that keep us from realizing God’s love for us, like the chaff from the wheat, and opens our lives, our hearts to receive the love, the words of reconciliation, and of joy that provide hope to our lives, in this time of hurry.

John points out that Zephaniah are still appropriate to our hearts, as the chaff of our lives is removed by the love of God, by the desire to make ourselves, once more, God’s creation, as seen by the Messiah, as loved by God, and as guided by God’s prophets, not just today, but every day.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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