Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; 3rd Sunday of Advent; Isaiah 12:2-6; Luke 3:7-18

This coming Sunday, December 13, 2015, is the Third Sunday of Advent. Traditionally it is called “Gaudete Sunday.”

The day takes its common name from the Latin word Gaudete which translates “rejoice,” as in Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” that we hear in Philippians 4:4.

Scripture readings for this Sunday are: Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7

You can read these Scriptures here : {NIV2010 and ESV}

Luke 3:7-18 NIV2010

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

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.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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.

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Our lives are happening between the first coming of Jesus 2000 years ago and his second coming sometime in the future. Two weeks ago, on the First Sunday of Advent Season, we talked about our need for Jesus’ return. It is self-evident that we live in an era when international conflicts, terrorism and extremism seem to be widespread and unimpeded; rapid climate change is the reality of our lives. Jesus cannot return soon enough…

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Last week we took a cursory look at the life and ministry of John the Baptist. We saw that his call to “Prepare the way of the Lord” is a challenge for us to allow the light of God to shine in even the darkest corners of our soul so that we can do some cleaning/repenting. “Prepare the way of the Lord” is a call to action, challenging us to invite God into our hearts and souls, recognizing that God cannot live in darkness and filth and neither should we.

John’s message, however, does not stop there. I want to unpack that today because without understanding John the Baptist, our understanding of the Advent of Jesus remains coached in pious terms that do not bear much significance in our lives.

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A strong case can be made that John the Baptist was a curmudgeon. Opening a sermon with, “You brood of vipers!,” kind of supports that assertion. Yet the Gospels and secular sources are clear that people came into the desert in droves to hear John preach.

  • “John said to the crowds coming out…” (John 3:7),

  • “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him” (Mark 1:5, Matthew 3:5)).

  • Joseph Flavius in the Antiquities of the Jews wrote, “… others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved by hearing his words” (Chapter 5).

Why would anybody in their right mind be eager to go out of their way to hear the harsh words and put-downs that are attributed to John?

The first clue lies in a question that people asked John after the conclusion of the sermon, “What should we do, then?” (Luke 3:10). That is not a question anybody asks when things are going well. “What should we do?” is a question we ask when we are tired, frustrated, disillusioned, or desperate, when we recognize the need for change. It is the question we ask when we are at the end of our rope. It is the question we ask when conventional wisdom does not accomplish the results that we want or hope for, and when our very lives seem to be crumbling.

The second clue comes from John’s answer. You would expect that someone who thinks that grasshoppers and wild honey make a great meal, who is dressed in itchy camel hair clothes and does not trim his hair and beard, would say something radical like “abandon your homes and families,” or “go live in the desert,” or “reject your culture,” or “start a revolution.”

Instead John told them to go home. Go home to your families and friends and neighbors. Live your lives. Stop fleeing. Stop insisting that God is somewhere else, somewhere far away from the grit and sweat of your nights and days. Learn to see God in your daily lives and routines. The Messiah is closer than you think. Live your lives, no matter how plain, obscure, or mundane. John’s message is that the Kingdom of Heaven is here, within and among us (Matthew 3:2). John’s message is that the Kingdom of Heaven is in ordinary acts of grace.

Think about it. To the tax collectors, he said, “Don’t be greedy. Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” To the mercenaries: “Do not bully others. Don’t extort money by threats or false accusations; be satisfied with your wages.” To the religious and political leaders of the time he said: “Don’t be arrogant or complacent. Your pedigree alone will not get you far. People who are worth their salt do not need to peddle their pedigree.” To everyone: “You have gifts to give. Figure out what you have to contribute and live productive lives.”

John’s message was that when we look closely, we learn that nothing in our lives is too mundane or secular for God. John’s message is that the Kingdom of Heaven is here, within and among us (Matthew 3:2). John’s message is that the Kingdom of Heaven is in ordinary acts of grace.

We need a “John the Baptist” these days.

I wonder what John the Baptist would say to us today as we struggle with the refugee crisis, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Yemen, Nigeria and Beirut, and the mass shootings in Colorado and California.

With the crowds that came out to the wilderness to hear John’s message we ask, “What should we do in 2015?” I think that John would call us to ordinary acts of grace. He would call us to share what we can. He would call us to stay at our jobs and do them well. I have no doubt in my mind that John would assert that our mundane, ordinary and unremarkable lives are filled with the extraordinary spirit of God, and it is up to us to change the world based on that knowledge. He would call us to be the hands and feet of Jesus; to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable/complacent.

It is the Advent season. Christmas day is just around the corner, and following that we have the twelve days of the Christmas season. Most of us are look forward to enjoying time with family and friends.

And we know that for many of our Christian sisters and brothers such expectations have been shattered. We could pray passionately for courage and hope. We can ignore their pain or we can empathize with their pain. We can throw up our hands in despair or we can roll up our sleeves and get busy. We could grieve those we have lost, the dreams that will never come to be, or we can get busy and ask God for new vision and new horizons.

The truth is that we live in a tough and dangerous world. The promise of John the Baptist is that our God can redeem everything that is wrong with the world and build something beautiful from it. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

NIV2010 Isaiah 12:2 Surely God is my salvation;

I will trust and not be afraid.

The Lord, the Lord himself,

is my strength and my defense;

he has become my salvation.”

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