Advent 3…Series C
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (December 12&13th, 2015)
Title: JOY and John the Baptist!!
Text: Luke 3: 7-18
On this third Sunday in Advent, I want to begin my homily with a serious question. The question is question #146 in The Book of Questions…and Question #146 in the Book of Questions is, without a doubt, an Advent question- Here it is: If you knew that a thermonuclear disaster would occur exactly five years from today (on December 13th, 2020) and nobody would survive the blast, how would you change your present life…if you knew that the world and everyone and everything in it would come to a screeching halt on December 13th 2020, what difference would it make in the way you lived your life today and tomorrow and for the next five years? What would you do…what changes would you make…how would you live today and tomorrow and the next 1823 days until December 12th (13th) 2020??
In our Gospel reading for this third Sunday of Advent we hear a summary of John the Baptist’s preaching in the Judean wilderness. The Evangelist Luke tells us that John came preaching a “Baptism of Repentance”. And John was dead serious…he wasn’t fooling around…he warned the people who came to hear him preach that the “Day of the Lord was coming soon, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant. John warned the people of an impending disaster that was just around the corner…in fact, at this very moment, the axe was being laid at the root of the trees and every tree that did not bear fruit would be cut down and thrown into the fire. And, in light of John’s message of gloom/doom and impending disaster, the people asked the logical question…the only question they knew to ask: WHAT SHOULD WE DO…WHAT CHANGES SHOULD WE MAKE…HOW SHOULD WE LIVE???
Now, obviously, John was wrong about the “Day of the Lord” being just around the historical corner…but he was right on in terms of what people needed to do to prepare for the coming of the Lord. John said there are three things people must do to prepare for the Lord’s coming…
- First…you must REPENT. The word repent means to turn around and to change the course and direction of your life. To repent means to turn from darkness and to move in the direction of the light…it means to turn from death and to move in the direction of life…REPENTENCE means to turn from disobedience and sin and turn decisively in the direction of God and the Gospel of Grace…
- Secondly, John said you need to be baptized as an outward and visible sign of this internal Repentance…a sign of your intention to live a different kind of life…a life which is oriented toward God and the Gospel of Grace.
- Finally (and most significantly) John said people prepare for the coming of the Lord by living lives which “bear fruit worthy of repentance”.
And it is this “Bearing Fruit worthy of Repentance” where today’s Gospel connects with the theme of this third Sunday of Advent. Traditionally the Third Sunday in Advent is called Gaudet Sunday (Gaudet is the Latin word for JOY). And it is the tradition that on the third Sunday in Advent we light the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath… the candle which symbolizes JOY. And this morning on this Gaudet Sunday, I would like to suggest to you that John the Baptist…the hell-fire and brimstone prophet of Advent is, actually, a herald of JOY and his terrifying message proclaims the truth about where true JOY is to be found.
Let me explain: I think, the kind of life which generates JOY…which manufactures JOY is the kind of life John described as a life which “bears fruit worthy of repentance”. And that kind of life has three essential characteristics:
- First…a life which “Bears Fruit Worthy of Repentance” is a GENEROUS life (a selfish life may produces happiness but it will not produce joy…generosity toward your fellow human beings and toward God produces JOY!
- Second…a life which “Bears Fruit Worthy of Repentance” is a GRATEFULl life. A life which is “marinated in gratitude” is a joy-filled life. I life which counts blessings not losses is a joy-filled life. A life which is grateful not just for the good things/the pleasant experiences which make us happy, but which is grateful and thankful for all of life… the totality of life’s experiences…the good the bad and the ugly) is a life filled with JOY!
- Finally…a life which “Bears Fruit Worthy of Repentance” is a life which does what is right and good and in harmony with God’s will. Doing and living in a way that you know is not right may produce temporary happiness but it will never produce JOY. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Bernard Madoff, the guy who ripped off thousands of people of billions of dollars in the largest Ponzi scheme in history. Maddoff knew for years that what he was doing was not right and he knew that in the end, he would be caught, but he did it anyway. And he enjoyed, for a time, the fruits of his deceit…for a time, he experienced some degree of happiness…but Bernie Madoff never knew (and he may never know) a single moment of JOY.
Friends, here is the truth…a life which is characterized by generosity and Gratitude…a life which does what is right and good…what is fair and just and in harmony with God’s will IS a life which “BEARS FRUIT WORTHY OF REPENTENCE”…a life filled with JOY!!
I would like to conclude this homily about JOY by telling you about a friend that I have never met but who I feel I know very, very well… His named is Robert Reed and he is severely physically disabled. His hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can’t bathe himself or feed himself…he can’t even brush his teeth or comb his hair. Robert’s shirts are held together with strips of Velcro because his fingers can’t manipulate the buttons… You see, Robert suffers from a rare and severe form of cerebral palsy. This cruel disease has kept him from doing many things that most of us do without even thinking about it. He can’t drive a car or ride a bike or take a walk. But the disease did not keep Robert from graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Latin or from becoming a Christian missionary in Portugal. Friends, here is the point I am trying to make: Robert could have been bitter and resentful about the hand he was dealt in life…he could have grumbled and complained and asked for sympathy and pity…but that is not the kind of life Robert has lived.. Instead of looking for pity or sympathy, Robert announced to the world…I have everything I need for JOY…I HAVE EVERYTHING I NEED FOR JOY! Amazing when you think about it…Robert’s shirts are held together with Velcro…but his life is held together with JOY!
My friends, as our Eucharistic celebration continues this evening/morning…as we prepare to, once again, approach the Table of Grace…to enter into and experience the mystery of the Risen Christ…the mystery of God’s love for us, in/with/under the Bread and the Wine of the Holy Eucharist, let us remember…let us never forget, the great Good News that we celebrate each time we come to this place…the Great Good News that we, like Robert Reed, have everything…absolutely everything we will ever need for Joy!!