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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

December 16, 2018

Luke 3:7-18         
Zephaniah 3:14-20           
Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice!  Celebrate!  Dance around!  Smile!  Hoot and holler!  God’s Kingdom is right here!  Rejoice in the face of fear!  Fear comes from Empire trying to control you.  Fear comes when the powerful are keeping more for themselves and trampling over everyone else.  Fear comes when people are living under oppression, when they have so many rules they are crushed by them, when people are disconnected from each other, divided.  Fear comes when corrupt leaders make their agenda, the agenda, when they only follow their own interests, when the poor are silenced.  Defy the fear and empire which causes it, the systems that perpetuate it.  Instead, rejoice!
Rejoice that you are no longer in danger from your enemies that were pursuing you.  Were you pursued by hunger or insecurity, were you pursued by robbers or by debts, were you pursued by illnesses, were there people out to get you?  Rejoice, you have nothing to fear.
Rejoice O God!  Rejoice that the people are not acting as your enemies anymore, but that we are one family, reunited. 
Rejoice O church of Philippi!  Their teacher, Paul, was far away.  He was imprisoned.  But God is actually near.  That is a reason to celebrate!  Paul gave thanks for the church in Philippi.  They had sent a gift to Paul, and he sent this letter back, rejoicing over them.  He gave thanks to God for them and he warned them not to participate in the fear-causing empire.  Instead, rejoice!
Rejoice, John, that the crowds have come to be baptized.  This is new life!  This is a new start.  People have left the cities, departed Jerusalem and the seats of power and wandered out to the desert.  They are looking for power in new places.  They are opening themselves to new experiences.  They are open to new teaching.  They are asking questions and they are interested in the answers.  They are not afraid of being called snakes.  Here they come, to the river, to humble themselves, to join in a community, to be washed clean, to show they are vulnerable and searching because their empire lives have not been giving them the answers they were looking for.
Rejoice in the desert, a place so ancient and expansive and powerful that even empire can’t crush it.  Come out to the wilderness, the place of unexpected silence and unexpected new life. 
Rejoice you brood of vipers, you baby snakes!  Rejoice, all sinners, fleeing from the cities and the halls of power to experience something new, to listen to God’s voice, to open yourselves to a new life.  Rejoice that your reptile brain doesn’t have to rule your life, that you can make room for deeper thought and for one another.
Rejoice, crowds, that even when it seems all is lost, that new life emerges.  Rejoice that even when trees are cut down, still a righteous branch can spring up, the branch of Jesse’s family line.  Even when the tree doesn’t bear fruit and it is pruned or chopped down, even when it seems it is too late, even when the branches have burned, there may be just below the surface, a glimmer of life.  God is able out of dead trees, to bring life.  God is able, out of stones, to raise up children.  God is able to take dry bones and breathe new life into them.  Even when our empire life, our crushing, slaving life, our earth-killing life destroys all that we have known, even when we die, still it is not too late for God to do a new thing.  That is worth rejoicing over.
Rejoice!  Rejoice that we have enough to share.  I have two coats, there is even something I can do.  Rejoice that we have clothing.  Rejoice that we have an income.  Rejoice that we have food.  Rejoice that we have power.  And how can we express this rejoicing and thanksgiving?  Give it away.  Our food is not for storing, but for eating.  Our coats are taking up too much space, anyway—give them away.  Our power is not for hoarding or using just for us—share it.  Anything we have is a burden to carry, but rejoice!  There is a solution—share!
Those who have nothing, rejoice, and be filled with expectation, because soon those coats and that food that were languishing in closets and cupboards, will be flowing to all those in need, to you!  Rejoice, soon everyone will have something to eat and will experience the goodness of God.
Rejoice, because when God washes away our sin and sends us forward in a Kingdom life, there will be no more bullying or extortion or high interest rates.  No one will discriminate against anyone else based on religion or gender or race or class.  Rejoice because we are truly one and when we walk in the Kingdom way, we will act like it!
Rejoice, because the Powerful One is coming!  This one is more poweful than all the powers of this world, the crushing powers, the greedy powers, the enslaving, dividing powers.  The all-powerful one is coming, the one who uses power for  the good of all, the one who shares power, the one who lets go of power to die and empower everyone.  The all-powerful one is coming and we have been adopted into his family.  We are good creation, the beloved children, inheritors of eternal life.  Rejoice!
Rejoice, because God is coming in judgment!  We usually shrink from judgment, but judgment just means that we will be seen as we are.  God already knows what is in our hearts.  God already knows where we fall short.  God already knows our selfish, fearful thoughts.  But God also knows when we are generous, and that we long to do better.  God knows our longing to be near to God.  God knows when we take the time with someone who doesn’t have anyone else.  God knows that we’ve shared our food and our coats.  God knows when we’ve sat by the bed of someone who is sick, or visited someone who is lonely, or sent a care package to someone deployed overseas, or taken in an orphan or a foster child or an exchange student, or a stray cat or dog.  God sees when we reuse what we have or use our gifts to create something.  God sees when we look someone in the eye and tell them a difficult truth.  God sees when we make use of what we have.  God knows when we humble ourselves and ask forgiveness.  God hears our prayers.  God knows us.  We don’t have to be afraid of God’s judgment, because we know God already loves us, and that God is merciful.  Rejoice in the judgment, because then we can put aside our act, our pretense, and just rest in the arms of the one who loves us unconditionally, and has come to set things right. 
Rejoice in the runaway truck ramp.  This broken world sometimes seems like a truck careening down the hill without breaks, out of control, powerful and dangerous, on a path of destruction.  It seems unstoppable.  However, God has put safeguards in place.  See this runaway truck ramp sign.  We need not fear the out of control powers of this world.  They will not go on indefinitely.  They will not take out everything in their path.  There are ways to slow everything down, and get it reversed in another direction, a way to stop and make repairs and start over.  Advent is a good time to bring to a halt the powers that seek to destroy.  Advent is a good time for self-reflection, “Is this what life is all about, or am I on a careening path about to crash?”  “What powers of this world are out of control and who is in the way that needs protection?”  John says, “Repent.”  There is a way to put a stop to this dangerous path: Reflection, baptism, repentance, sharing, being content with what you have, standing up against injustice and greed.
Rejoice in the removal of the chaff.  The chaff is the protective outer layer of the seed.  It is good for protecting seeds, keeping them dry, keeping out mold and rot.  However, the chaff is temporary.  It is meant to break off and let the seed grow or provide nutrients.  The chaff may be burned or crushed off, but it eventually separates from the seed.  We all have a protective layer—sometimes it is two coats or even 5 or 6 coats, to make sure we don’t go without.  Sometimes it is extra food to keep us safe from hunger.  Sometimes it is a savings account.  Sometimes it is our favorite pew.  Sometimes it is doing things the way we always have.  Sometimes it is our pretenses.  But today, the chaff, the protective layer is being thrown into the fire, and we are left here vulnerable, in need of God’s protection, exposed.  And we find that fear isn’t going to help us.  Instead, we find ourselves rejoicing, because we are seen and known, because that protective layer wasn’t serving us anymore, because now we can spread out and grow with the new life that God is giving us. 
Rejoice O little congregation, that God is working through you, that you are connected to neighbors and other churches that will help you and that you can lend a hand to.  Rejoice that you have God’s abundance, over 50 years of history of God’s faithfulness here, bringing you through difficult times and never abandoning you.  Rejoice that you have the strength of leaders, that everyone shares their gifts and talents.  Rejoice in the ministry that we have done together and that will still go on.  Rejoice in one another, your connections, your encouragement, your prayer for one another. 
And rejoice in the coming of Christ!  None of us are alone.  We belong to the one who made us and sustains us.  We belong to the one who saved us, our Good Shepherd, our King of Kings.  Rejoice in him at our center, and rejoice by serving him.  Thank God by continuing in faithfulness, volunteering, stepping up, sharing our food and clothing and money with all in need. 
Today I am rejoicing because of all of you and because of the faithfulness of our Savior Jesus.  May you find yourselves rejoicing, too, and the rejoicing will go on because God is near.

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