Sunday, 13 December 2015

Can't make it to church? 13 December 2015

The third Sunday of Advent and today we look to the words of the Philippians reading and to make sense of today we need to look at the words in the King James Version, which has it thus:  Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.

These words, in the Latin start with the expression "Gaudete in Domino semper" give us the name of this Sunday, for it is 'Gaudete' Sunday - it is also called 'Rose Sunday' because today we light the rose-coloured candle. apparently not a lot of people know that by the number of purple candles I have seen lit  :-) )

Today we rejoice at the nearing of the promise that God would send His solution to the world to reconcile a fallen creation and a loving God; and that of course is to be found in Jesus, the Christ. Real reason to rejoice - have you ever had a broken relationship and had it restored? What did it do to you?

When I  have had this happen I have found that there was more than just 'being friends' again, for there was a glow and something quite sublime in having the relationship restored. Ever lost something valuable (in the emotional rather than monetary sense) and had it restored? Something given as a reminder of a love, or a person or a moment - something worth so much more than it's value.

This is what today is about - it is a day to hear the words of John the Baptist calling us to change out lives and a day to rejoice that 'The Lord is coming soon!' Now that, even for sum Church of England types has to be worth a hallelujah!

The words of the Gospel talk of living with equity such that justice and mercy (Micah's call to us:  6.6-8)  are found in us. I love the 'EVEN' the tax collectors came to John to be baptised. The 'EVEN' is there because these were probably the most despised (trumped only by being a Samaritan perhaps) bunch of people around. They were in bed with the Romans and overcharged  those around them to enable them to cream a little off the top. The sharp end of the Roman rule was felt whenever you walked the streets and saw thew soldiers; a constant reminder that you were occupied and that you land was no longer your own.

And the words at the end of the Gospel sort of sum it all up:

"John said many other things to warn the people. 
 He also announced the good news to them.”

Even then people didn't like the hard bit of the message of salvation - seems some things never change do they? We all like the 'Good News' and yet we struggle with the submitting, living as God requires and all that sort of thing. Perhaps that's why so many of us offer something so limp and lightweight - but popular messages without the 'other things' don't they?

So there's a good reason that these two group feature so prominently, Luke knows what he is doing in reporting John's ministry as he does.  Stop and think for a moment of the worst person or people group you consider there to be and then step back a little to ficus, think and realise that if God's Grace can reach out to them then even YOU can be saved.

Now that, surely is something to be rejoicing about today isn't it?

The Collect
God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,

with Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Zephaniah 3.14-20
People of Zion, sing! Israel, shout loudly!
People of Jerusalem, be glad! Let your hearts be full of joy.
The Lord has stopped punishing you.He has made your enemies turn away from you. The Lord is the King of Israel. He is with you. You will never again be afraid that others will harm you. The time is coming when people will say to Jerusalem,
  “Zion, don’t be afraid. Don’t give up. The Lord your God is with you.
   He is the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you.
   In his love he will no longer punish you. Instead, he will sing for joy  because of you.”

The Lord says to his people,
“You used to celebrate my appointed feasts in Jerusalem.
 You are sad because you can’t do that anymore.
 Other people make fun of you because of that.
 That sadness was a heavy load for you to carry. But I will remove that load from you.
 At that time I will punish all those who crushed you.
 I will save those among you who are disabled. I will gather those who have been taken
 away. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have been put to shame. 
 At that time I will gather you together. And I will bring you home. I will give you honour and 
 praise among all the nations on earth. I will bless you with great success again,”
 says the Lord.

Philippians 4.4-7
Always be joyful because you belong to the Lord. I will say it again. Rejoice! Let everyone know how gentle you are. The Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything. No matter what happens, tell God about everything. Ask and pray, and give thanks to him. Then God’s peace will watch over your hearts and your minds. He will do this because you belong to Christ Jesus. God’s peace can never be completely understood.

Luke 3.7-18
John spoke to the crowds coming to be baptised by him. He said, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger? Live in a way that shows you have turned away from your sins. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones. The axe is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.”

“Then what should we do?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has extra clothes should share with the one who has none. And anyone who has extra food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptised. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” John told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
John replied, “Don’t force people to give you money. Don’t bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay.”

The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I am will come. I’m not good enough to untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His pitchfork is in his hand to toss the straw away from his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his barn. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.” John said many other things to warn the people. He also announced the good news to them.”

Post Communion Prayer
We give you thanks, O Lord, for these heavenly gifts;
kindle in us the fire of your Spirit
that when your Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;

who is alive and reigns now and for ever. Amen.

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