3rd Sunday of Advent

3rd Sunday of Advent/Year C

December 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3: 7-18

What then should we do?

Just a few weeks ago, we began a new church year, a year that begins with the season of Advent. As with any new year, whether we are celebrating the New Year on January 1st, or whether we are celebrating your birthday, or whether we are celebrating the beginning of a new church year, there is often a flicker or a spark, that gets us started with hope for the new year ahead…A flicker or a spark…that gives us a glimpse of what it means to dare to dream, dare to hope, dare to believe…that the road ahead will be filled with new possibilities, new experiences, new loves, and new hopes fulfilled…in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.

But, sometimes, that same flicker or spark, can immediately be extinguished, when one’s thoughts keep going back to the way things were, the thoughts of all that is wrong in one’s life and all that seems out of control in the world around us, with day after day of the news of tragedies, violence, suffering, and divisions.

So, what does one do? How does one use that flicker or spark that ignites as a new year begins…to be a light of hope for the new day…instead of the return to darkness and despair and the idea that this is how it will always be?

Something that comes to mind for me, as I ponder that question: I think about what happens when we light a candle…what keeps the flame burning…and what causes it to extinguish right away?

Sometimes there is a build up of wax from a lot of use over time…sometimes, the wick is buried down deep in the candles, and can’t even be lit…sometimes we keep trying to light a candle that has served its purpose and has no more light to give. It is burned out.

In our lives, too…that sometimes happens. There is so much build up of worry, stress, busyness, and heartaches in our hearts and in our minds, that over time, and with constant attention to these worries and built up stress, we become buried, and find it difficult to even imagine or find a way out.

 And… often, we are unwilling to let things go, to allow for a new light to be lit…even at the point of burnout.

This is where the message of John the Baptist comes to life in us…with his bold and sometime harsh sounding words…to repent… to turn away from the powers of sin, hatred, fear, injustice, and oppression, to follow Jesus in the Way of Love: the way of truth, love, hope, justice, and freedom….to repent of all those things in our lives, that prevent the flame of hope from burning…

On our way of love advent calendar: Fridays focus on the practice of “Turn”.  The first week, we were asked the question: Where have I fallen short this week? How can I make amends? Last week we were given a suggestion of turning from one way towards a new way: Turn away from the busyness of the week and turn toward someone who gives you life or to whom you give life. Give thanks. Looking ahead to this week, for the practice of “turn” on our advent calendar, we are invited to: Read the Confession of sin (BCP 352) in an unfamiliar location - in the park, at work, at school, or on the bus. What does the prayer inspire you to turn from in that location? What does it inspire you to turn toward?

I really encourage you to give this last one a try this week. We read the confession of sin most Sundays here in church, but not so much in the park, at work or school, or on the bus.

These are familiar places, but unfamiliar in the context of where we pray the confession of sin. I think it would be an eye opener for us, if we considered some of the lines in the prayer, as we observed the people around us, and our reactions and responses, in those settings…pondering what we have done, or left undone, pondering the ways we have not loved God with our whole heart, and how we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves…

I think, too, that we would get a glimpse of just how shocking and perhaps how radical John’s message must have sounded…when he showed up in their everyday lives, their comfortable ways, and familiar places…with urgent warnings to repent and to bear fruits worthy of repentance.



Bear fruits worthy of repentance: What was John saying?

In our gospel reading today, the crowds asked John, "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."

What then should we do?

Let’s listen to today’s reflection for the third Sunday of Advent, from the Living Well through Advent Devotional…that was written by The Rt Rev Brian Cole: He writes –

I recently received my kindergarten report card in the mail. My eldest brother, who has been assisting my mother in another round of downsizing to a smaller living space, sent me the 45 year old record of how life was for me as a 5 year old navigating half-day school.

It was mostly a pleasant reminder that I enjoyed school and flourished in that environment. The highest mark was “E” for excellent and the report card had numerous E’s.

Except for sharing. Alongside the phrase, “Shares Well With Others,” there was a letter “N” for Needs Improvement. The marks were given out each quarter. Each quarter my sharing skills received an N. My five year old self was not a sharer.

Along with the tangible reminder of early school days provided by the report card, a recent documentary also took me back to childhood. Won’t you Be My Neighbor?, a film on Fred Rogers and his PBS series – Mr Roger’s Neighborhood – examines the life of Mr Rogers and his life’s work of teaching children. Like many who grew up with Mr Rogers, I found the film to be quite moving. Here was a safe adult, teaching children how to be good and faithful neighbors to all, whether the neighbors were real or from the “Land of Make Believe.”

I was surprised, but am now convinced, that the film made the point that Mr Rogers was somehow radical in his inclusive message of love and sharing with all. While the zip-up sweaters and soft voice of Mr Rogers made him an unlikely revolutionary, his consistent message of love for all in “his” neighborhood and sharing with others was a counter-cultural move. Our world tends to limit who we understand to be our neighbors. And while we expect kindergarten children to share, the real world does not tend to advise it or reward it when adults share.

John the Baptist, a biblical character rarely confused with Mr Rogers, also invites all his neighbors to share. But he doesn’t take the soft voice, nice-sweater approach. Rather, he opens with, “You brood of vipers!” That’s not exactly polite talk, nor does it suggest using your inside voice.

When the crowds who came to see John asked him how to get off the Vipers list, he tells them the most radical thing – share. Share your coat, share your food, treat each other fairly. If they do these things, John tells them they will bear fruit that will please God. They will live as God intended, by sharing generously like the generous God who created, and shares with, them.

So, back to my questions that I raised at the beginning today: How does one use the flicker or spark of light that ignites as a new year begins, to be a light of hope…and as we light a candle, how do we keep this flame burning? How do we keep this hope alive and burning brightly in our days ahead…

We Share. We share with one another. We share in the love and the blessings of God, with one another and with all of creation.

We share the Good News of God’s love for us, revealed to us already, but eager to be born in us again, with the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ into our lives and in our hearts, on Christmas Day.

We share the good news through the scriptures and words of our prophets and other forerunners, who have called us to turn our lives around and help us in reorienting our lives towards the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, to ignite hope in our lives once again:


From the words of Zephaniah today:

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;


From the words of Isaiah:

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.


From Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

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.

All beautiful and gentle words of hope and encouragement…from Zephaniah, Isaiah, and Paul…

And then there’s John…John’s words that jolt us out of our slumber and complacency: "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."


What then should we do?

Be the voice, and listen for the voices, of those in the scriptures, and among us now, who are proclaiming and sharing the Good News…with gentle words of hope and encouragement, in thought, word, and deed… or through the bold and sometimes shocking voices, that wake us up…as John the Baptist does for us on this third Sunday of Advent…

May his words ignite a passion and a hope in us…to make a turn in our lives, make changes in our lives…to make room for the joy… that allows for the flame of light and hope to burn brightly…showing us, in this new year… the way to walk in love, as Christ has loved us…showing us the way to walk in love, by sharing, joyfully all that we are, by sharing, joyfully all that we have… with God…one another…and all of creation…

John Proclaimed it: Change Your Lives!

"John Proclaimed It: "Change Your Lives!”

Written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

John proclaimed it: “Change your lives!
Brood of snakes!  Come, be baptized!
Who warned you to flee what’s near?
There is wrath that’s coming here.

God has called you!  Have you heard?
God has said a mighty word!
Listen, people! Turn from wrong.
Turn around and sing God's song.
Seek God’s justice!  Pave the way!
God is bringing this new day.”

People asked him, “How can we
Turn and serve God faithfully?”
John responded, “Be the good
In your home and neighborhood.”

God has called you!  Have you heard?
God has said a mighty word!
Listen, people! Turn from wrong.
Turn around and sing God's song.
Seek God’s justice!  Pave the way!
God is bringing this new day.”

“Have two coats?  Now go and share
With the poor one shivering there.
Spread God’s joy and seek to bring
Justice where there’s suffering.

Don’t be greedy, wanting more.
Don’t use threats and hurt the poor.
Listen people! Turn from wrong.
Turn around and sing God's song.
Seek God’s justice!  Pave the way!
God is bringing this new day.”



Biblical References: Luke 3:7-18 
Tune: Felix Mendelssohn, 1840 ("Hark! The Herald Angels Sing")  
Text: Copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

Permission is given for free use of this hymn to supporters of Sojourners.


Rev. Julie Platson, Rector

St Peter’s by the Sea Episcopal Church

Sitka, Alaska