Year C, Advent 3

 

Luke 3: 7-18                            (Sermon 2: “Bad News that is Good news”)

Zephaniah: 3: 14-20...

Philippines 4: 4-7 ...                (Sermon 1: “Be Happy”)

Isaiah 12: 2-6

 

GETTING FOCUSSED

 

The happiness of the Coming Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

The Holy Spirit is the Harpist,

and of our strings that are strung with love will make a sweet

 and joyful sound together.  [from   Mechtild of Margdeburg]

           

Be happy in the Lord, always.  I repeat: Be happy in the Lord!

Sing aloud, daughters of faith, shout with joy you sons of hope!.

Be happy in the Lord, always.  I repeat: Be happy in the Lord!

Laugh and celebrate with all your heart, children of God!

                                                                                    [from Philippians & Zephaniah]

OR–

 

As we gather to worship the God of Advent,

let us draw sparkling water from the wells of salvation.

We will say this day:

We thank you, Lord, and call upon your name,

we make known your deeds among the nations!

 

Sing praises to God, who has done gloriously

Shout and sing for joy, all people of Zion,

for great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel.

                                                                                    [from Isaiah 12]

 

PRAYER: APPROACHING GOD

 

Most holy and most generous God, you have more laughter in store for us than we can ever imagine. As we step one more week closer to Christmas, convey us from the trivial to the profound, from worry to eagerness, from brief pleasures to that divine joy which nothing on earth or in heaven can ever subdue. Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

REPENTING AND TRUSTING GRACE

 

Let is confess our sins, not as frightened servants but as children of the household of God.

 

Whenever we live like losers, without the faith-optimism of those who have received grace upon grace; Lord have mercy.

                        Lord have mercy.

 

Whenever we serve slavishly, forgetting the glorious liberty of those who have been named children of God; Christ have mercy.

                             Christ have mercy.

 

Whenever we only laugh sarcastically, mocking human faults instead of participating in the joy of the redeemed; Lord have mercy.

                                    Lord have mercy.

 

God our Saviour-Friend, by the grace of Christ Jesus please bring us to repentance and annul our sins, and by the infusion of your Spirit help us to recover the joy for which we are created. With all the enlightened souls on earth and in heaven, we long love you all the days of our life, and adore you throughout eternity.. For your name’s sake.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

With joy draw waters from the well of salvation!

Forgiveness is real! Trust it and share it; forgive as you have been forgiven.

Jesus said: “There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”

Truly, God is our salvation

we shall; trust and not be afraid.!

 

The peace of our Saviour Jesus Christ be with you all.

And also with you

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Waiting

 

Dear God, I can hardly wait

            for Christmas Day

but I just have too!

 

So while I wait

            help me to get my heart ready

            as well as my cards and presents.

Amen.

                        Ó B D Prewer 2000  & Open Book Publishers

 

PSALM: ISAIAH 12

 

On that most wonderful day

            you will dance and sing:

The Lord who gave us discipline

            now does his saving thing!

 

Take a long look: God is healing,

            love drives out all fear.

The Lord is my rising song,

            for now is salvation near.

 

As from a great artesian basin

            you shall drink from living waters.

On that greatest of great days,

            laugh! God’s sons and daughters!

 

Call now upon the Lord’s name,

            celebrate the matchless grace.

Tell it to all the nations,

            carry it through outer space.

 

O people of God, sing your best songs,

            broadcast to the whole earth!

Let all Australians sing for joy,

            sing for all you’re worth!

                                                                        ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

                                    (Another version is in ‘More Australian Psalms’)

 

DIPPER JOHN

 

It was a weird place to choose

from which to launch his mission to the nation

and get himself in the six o’clock news.

Why not a cathedral, or maybe

a theatre, town hall or music bowl,

or a midday show on the TV?

Or if John had his heart set

on the outdoors, with sand and water,

wouldn’t Bondi or Surfers Paradise

be a much more profitable bet?

 

Instead, this preacher chose a small space

a long way from the seas,

on a bend of the old inland river,

where the clay coloured waters meander

between weathered trees

hoping one day to find the ocean.

As I said, a most weird place

from which to launch his mission.

But then, John himself is a very odd bloke,

wearing faded army camouflage pants,

a battered akubra on his head,

and eating witchetty grubs and honey ants.

 

But for me the really big surprise

is that his mission is working!

First the curious and a few local guys,

then a bigger mob from the river towns,

now bus loads from ‘the big smoke”

drawn by a feature on “Sixty Minutes”

that had treated John as a joke.

One of the Murdoch newspapers

sort of christened him “Dipper John,”

because converts who want

to make a new start, full on,

let the preacher dip them in the stream.

The word is out that even ex-crims

have got their act together like a dream.

 

He is a weird bloke, this Dipper John.

Instead of cashing in on his fame

he keeps saying that he is not worth a flipper

compared with another fella, a big name,

whom he’s expecting to arrive and catch on–

a super star who’s already on the way.

I tell you, if the new fella is bigger than Dipper,

then he’ll be something worth seeing, heh?

                                                                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

Most wonderful God, you have called us not to slavery but to liberty, not to grief but to joy. Please renew that call in our minds and hearts today, that as we serve you we may do it without anxiety, taking faith-risks to the glory of your name. Through Christ Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit deserve all love and praise.

Amen!,

 

 

SERMON 1: BE HAPPY

 

So, with much urging, John preached the good news to the people.     Luke 3:18

Rejoice in the Lord always. I tell you again: Rejoice      Philippians 4:4

 

Good news!

Rejoice!

Be happy!

!

Joy is a special kind of happiness

which wells up from deep springs.

            It is neither superficial nor fickle,

            yet a little child may know it.

            Joy overflows in time

            yet is the stuff of eternity.

 

This special happiness is the dominant theme of the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

¾ Both of the Old Testament readings ( Zephaniah and Isaiah) are songs of joy.

¾ Paul in Philippians 4  celebrates the truth that the Lord is near.

¾ In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist preaches the good news, the gospel,

             to those who come to hear him. Joy is the theme.

 

WHAT GIVES HAPPINESS?

 

If I were to ask many of my fellow Australians: What gives happiness, their answers are likely to reflect the slick assumptions and illusions of the community. Things like¾

            wealth; winning the first division lotto prize, or being a millionaire by the age of 30.

                         Plenty of money equals happiness.

            being young; hence the cosmetic industry focussed on making us look younger than we are.

                        To stay youthful equals happiness.

            good health; the massive market for health products witnesses to the assumption

                        that good health equals happiness.

            popularity: To be popular, to have  admiring people around you, who flatter you. If possible,

                        to be a sports star, TV of pop star,  these are happiness.

            good marriage: To marry a person that you are in madly in love with, is supposed to guarantee happiness.

                        Hence the happy ending the majority of people still demand in cheap novels, soap operas

                        and romantic films.

            having children: This remains (regardless of the many couples who now choose not to have children)

                        a much wanted source of happiness for the majority.

 

I suggest to you that these would rate highly on the list of Aussie assumptions about the sources of happiness. You might wish to add a few more like “success”, “power”, and those promiscuous bedroom exertions which are euphemistically called “good sex”.

 

 

SOME CLARIFICATION

 

Before I proceed any further, let me not acknowledge the good in most of these assumptions. They have some validity.

 

            Wealth: there is no virtue in grinding poverty; some money helps our well being.

            Youth: the energies of the young are a considerable asset. Old age has its drawbacks.

            Health: only a hypochondriac would prefer disease to good health.

            Popularity: we all have a need to be liked and respected . Being unpopular is not fun.

            Good marriage:  of course a love-match is a good start.

            Children: for most of us, kids are a wonderful privilege.

 

I am not knocking these things.  But are they a lasting source of that deep, undercurrent of  happiness which we call joy? Can they be relied on to deliver what we imagine they promise?

 

THE EVIDENCE

 

Sadly the answer is “no!” Rational thought flatly contradicts the widespread assumptions about the sources of sustainable happiness. The roots of joy are not found in wealth, health, popularity, youthfulness, marriage, or having children.

 

The evidence is otherwise; evidence that we all can see and hear.  For example --

 

There are some parents regard their children as a mistake. They can’t wait to park them on someone else and get on with their lives. On the other hand, there are numerous childless folk who have found  profound joy.

 

It is the same with a marriage. Love matches can turn sour and some of those who expected a life of unabated happiness, end up hating each other. And even in the happiest of marriages, the soul still seeks something even more profound.

 

Then what about popularity? There are plenty of lonely and despairing super stars, for whom real joy remains an illusion. Some even resort to suicide.

 

And as for youthfulness, we have all met many joyful elderly people and have seen plenty of miserable young people.

 

The same can be said about good health. You can visit the numerous gymnasiums and see dozens of desperately healthy specimens who are morose. On the other hand, in hospitals or in wheelchairs you can find some radiant characters.

 

Lastly, there is the biggest furphy [furphy: Aus for rumour] of them all: wealth. Common sense shouts at us that wealth does not bring happiness. The world is littered with nasty, sour, and ruthless millionaires; who smile for the camera with their face muscles (but not with their eyes) while their souls are as arid as a desert. On the other hand there are millions of ordinary folk with just enough money to make do, who are a sheer joy to be with.

 

What really irks me, my friends, is that I find people of the church who get caught up in the same illusions as the secular world. And what irks me even more, is that I find myself sometimes day-dreaming,  sucked in by these illusions. Yuk!

 

SPIRITUALITY AND JOY

 

All the major religions of the world have said that happiness can only be found spiritually.

For Christianity, real joy is to let yourself be found by the generous, supreme love of God in Jesus Christ.

 

Joy is to know the love of God, to be treasured and cherished by the very Spirit who is the source of our existence.

Joy is to lose the anxiety which is bred by slavish religion, or arid godlessness, and to find the liberty of the children of God.

Joy is to know that in success or failure, sickness or in health, poverty or wealth, youth or old age, living or dying, our lives are in the hands of amazing grace.

 

“Salvation” is the word commonly used to describe the ministry of Christ in our lives.

 

Salvation has two meanings: rescue and healing. Both of these apply. Christ rescues us from all the illusions and bondages that characterise those who are lost souls. Also, Christ, like a laser of grace, heals the depths of our being, restores us to health. He enables us to bask and delight in the affection of God. 

 

The Lord Jesus Christ is the immense, rescuing, liberating, healing love of God focussed in one human life. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. That is what we are preparing to celebrate as we draw near to Christmas.

 

SAINT PAUL

 

I return to the words of St Paul with which I started: Always rejoice in the Lord. I tell you again: Rejoice!

 

Because of Immanuel, that devout but miserable fellow, Saul of Tarsus, became the joyful Saint Paul.

 

He had been a slavish, religious fanatic, proudly racist, fearful of what he saw as heresies, anxious lest he break one of God’s commandments, hating his own body, and angry at the sect known as Christians.  But when on that road to Damascus was confronted with the blinding love of God in Christ Jesus, joy and liberty filled his being. Joy was the by-product of his new faith. It welled up unquenchable from the eternal, intimate Presence of God.

 

Years later, after being often flogged, shipwrecked on mission journeys, spat on, hounded out of towns, jeered at by intellectuals, scorned by his fellow Pharisees, pelted with stones, shackled in prisons;

finally when he was held under arrest in Rome awaiting his trial and death, Paul was able to write to his friends:

             “Alway rejoice in the Lord. I tell you again: Rejoice!....

              The Lord is near. Have no anxiety about anything.”

 

Christian joy does not depend on life’s circumstances.

            It source is eternal.

 

TAKE SOME DEEP BREATHS?

 

As we journey on the hectic, fast lane to Christmas,

            I am going to try (may God help me!) take some deep breaths of the Spirit,

            and journey with faith, hope and love.

 

Will  you join me?.

            Happiness, profound joy, is the fruit of those who trust the Lord has come,

            and is coming right at this moment,

            and who will come at the very end

            to gloriously complete our salvation.

 

 

SERMON 2: THE BAD NEWS THAT IS GOOD NEWS

 

LUKE 3:18

 

So with many exhortations, John preached good news to the people   Luke 3:18

 

We like to play the game

             of dividing things into bad news and good news;

            black or white, smile or frown, dance or drag the feet.

 

But things are not as simple as that.

            In many cases the thing we call bad news is actually good news. That is, the bad news is good news in the long term.

 

Examples.

¾ If just before I leave on a long journey I notice a fault in a car tyre, I may react as if it were bad news. But it fact discovering that fault is good news. It might well save my life.

 

¾ If a physician says: “I’m afraid we must take out your appendix” we may react as if it is bad news. But in truth it is very good news; it’s wonderful that what can be a life-threatening situation can so easily be rectified.

 

¾ If a young woman working on her thesis is told by her supervisor: “You will have to widen your scope of research and tighten up on your argument if you want to get this thesis accepted,” she may feel it as very bad news. But of course in terms of her goals it is excellent news.

 

Good news is not necessarily “nice” news.

 

Good news may be uncomfortable news. In some cases it may involve considerable cost. It may bring distress and pain.

 

JOHN’S GOOD BAD NEWS

 

Think about the final sentence in the Gospel reading for today.

            So with many exhortations, John preached good news to the people   Luke 3:18

 

In the passage leading up to this summary,

we hear how John the Baptist thundered at some of those gathered around him by the Jordan:

            You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

 

And a little later he speaks of the Messiah who will come

            His fork in his hand, to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the silo.           But the husks and rubbish he will burn with unquenchable fire.

 

Good news?

Does it not sound (on first hearing) more like bad news for a heap of people?

 

John’s tough words were not spoken to the merely curious,

nor to those who came to scoff, nor to spies who came to gather evidence against him. His words were spoken to those who had asked to be baptised by him. It is to these that he says:

            You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

 

Somewhat caustic, huh?

I don’t think John ever read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Here it seems the prospective converts are getting a blast from the desert preacher.

 

What John is saying amounts to this –

 

Baptism is not enough.

            The outward form is not enough. Just because you have been baptised do not mean you

            have really repented.

 

Nor is your heritage enough.

            Don’t tell me you are the sons of Abraham, that’s not enough!  God can make sons out of the wilderness stones if God so wishes. (Here there is a play on words. benayya are sons and abnayya are stones.)  God is not dependent on your favour. Don’t put your trust in religious heritage, it is not enough.

 

Not surprisingly they ask him:

            “What then do we have to do?”

 

John’s answer is to call for repentance;

            but not that kind of penitence that is sentimental whitewash..

 

Penitence can be limited to feeling sorry.

            For some, it can be just be a self-centred indulgence. Feel sorry , weep a little to justify yourself,

            then do nothing about your sin. Penitence can be easy; “nice” news.

 

Repentance is the bad very-good news.

            It is the pain that can heal. It involves taking drastic action; it is usually difficult. It means a fundamental about turn; a painful turning away from self-interest to face God and God’s interest. Repentance means a drastic “sea change” resulting in a changed direction and a new kind of behaviour. Repentance means new deeds.

 

John the Baptist demands

            that they bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.

 

To the ordinary people he says:

            “If you have two suits, share with the person who has none.

            If you eat well, share with those who go hungry.”

 

I wonder how far we are prepared to hear

that hard word that still blasts our indifference?

 

To those disloyal Jews

who were employed by the occupation army of Rome to gather taxes, John the Baptist insisted:

            Repentance meant giving up extortion and only collecting what was fair.

            Repentance was a costly          business.

 

To the soldiers, the occupying force,

            ( Now there’s a surprise! Soldiers? The Roman army? Even some of them responded            to John’s preaching and were baptised.)

To these he said

            :Stop bullying people. Stop taking bribes.” Repentance was a costly business.

 

So with many exhortations, John preached good news to the people   Luke 3:18

 

THIS WAS VERY GOOD NEWS

 

This was really great news.

            It may sound hard, hard as a surgeon’s scalpel, but it opened people up to the new possibilities of health in the love-kingdom of God. Repentance and its fruits is very good news indeed. It is a message of hope and happiness!

 

We tend to run from the hard truth.

            We don’t like disciplines. We shrink from honest confrontation with our own tricky, scheming souls.

 

Therefore many hear repentance as only bad news.

            But the good  bad” news is that God is not content to forsake us, lost in the maze

            of our foolishness and sin.

            The call to repentance is a call to truly come home, no matter how painful the journey.

            To come home and begin bearing the good fruits that are appropriate for each of our lives.

 

So with many exhortations, John preached good news to the people   Luke 3:18

 

Some of this similar good news,

            with similar warnings and exhortations from John the Baptist, may hurt,

            but will not harm, you or me this Advent.

 

How about it?

 

 

WE GIVE THANKS FOR LIFE’S HARD LESSONS

 

We give thanks, God of hope and infinite resourcefulness, for all the good things that can come from frustrating and painful situations, and for the joy that transcends even the darkest times of this mortal life.

 

For the travail of birth and the joy of a suckling baby

For the bruises and setbacks of childhood without which we cannot grow.

For the hard disciplines of schooling, through which the mind and spirit expands.

For anxiety of seeing our young people leave home to stand on their own feet..

For the self-giving that must be embraced for a marriage to flourish.

 

For those unpleasant truths that we do not at first want to face.

For the struggle to admit that we have done wrong and the joy of finding Christ’s peace.

For the discomfort of apologising to those whom we have harmed by word or deed.

For the cost of restitution and the pain of sometimes having it thrown back in our face.

For the painful victory over ego that leads to forgiving those who have wronged us.

 

For your hard refusals to our urgent but unwise or selfish prayers.

For the insistence of the Spirit that we serve in ways that don’t suit our inclinations.

For some much-feared disasters that happened, yet led us to discover deeper resources.

For periods of spiritual drought from which deeper faith and love emerged.

For the grinding work we were not spared, and tiredness that was not quickly relieved.

For grief for which there was no quick fix, which we had to work through one-day-at-a-time.

 

Holy Friend, we thank you that we are alive in your creation where things are not always as they seem, and where grace breaks out like a flowing stream in wilderness places. Wonderful are your hidden purposes on earth and in heaven!

Amen!.

 

WE SHARE GOD’S CONCERN FOR THE WORLD

 

It is written: See here, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors;

                                    and I will save the lame and gather the outcaste; and I will change their

                                    misery into praise, and their honour shall be worldwide.

Let us pray.

 

God our holy and unshakeable Friend, we seek your undergirding joy

for the people of planet earth.

 

Where there is conflict, terrorism and war, bless all those who work for peace and reconciliation.

Bring your peace and joy, loving Friend.

 

Where there is exploitation of the weak and the poor, bless those who work for emancipation.

Bring your judgement and joy, loving Friend.

 

Where there are refugee camps, prison compounds, and ethnic discrimination, bless those who work for justice and liberty.

Bring your rescue and joy, loving Friend.

 

Where there is addiction to drugs, alcohol and gambling, bless those who provide programmes for rehabilitation.

Bring your healing and joy, loving Friend.

 

Where there is hunger, malnutrition, disease, and despair, bless the agencies that bring compassion and practical help.

Bring your hope and joy, loving Friend.

 

Where there are the lonely, the suffering and the sorrowing, bless the merciful who are lovingly there for them.

Bring your comfort and joy, Loving Friend.

 

Where the church is weak and struggling against big odds, bless all those sturdy souls who keep the faith and practice the love.

Bring your abundant grace and joy, loving Friend.

 

SENDING OUT

 

With joy may you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Amen

!

The health of the living God is among you and within you.

Go out into the world buoyantly and boldly.

Thanks be to God!

 

The laughter of the saving Christ,

the cheerfulness of the lively Spirit,

and the joy of the everlasting God, be with you now and always.

Amen !