Heed the Prophet’s Warnings – December 16, 2018
December 16, 2018

Heed the Prophet’s Warnings – December 16, 2018

To start today’s sermon I’d like to go back to last week’s collect of the 2nd Sunday in Advent.

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today is the third Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice,” taken from the Epistle reading from Philippians – “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice.” We light the third Advent candle – the pink one. Today as we prayed in last week’s collect, we prepare to meet the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer with great joy.

Today’s scripture lessons reflect this note of joy in what otherwise can sometimes be a somber season. Today we hear the Prophet Zephaniah proclaim, “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem.” The First Song of Isaiah proclaims that “surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.” Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” John the Baptist, however, is less upbeat: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

In our Advent Lessons and Carols service we hear from Isaiah that a new shoot will come out of the root or stump of Jesse (the father of King David) and that he will bring a new era of peace. Micah tells us that a new ruler for God’s people will come, like David, from Bethlehem. Jeremiah promises that a new Covenant will be written on people’s hearts. And the prophet known as 2nd Isaiah promises comfort to Jerusalem and God’s people, for God will make a way for the exiles to return.

It is a positive message. We like to hear and reiterate each year that Jesus is the fulfillment of all these prophecies. He is an heir of King David. He is the Messiah (the anointed king) promised long ago by those prophets. But we tend to forget that the prophets didn’t only have a positive message about the coming of the Messiah. Each of these prophets’ primary role was to prophecy a strong note of judgment. God was going to judge Israel and the nations because of injustice, because of oppression and mistreatment of the poor, because of dishonesty, because of abuse of power and finances, because of trusting other so-called “gods” instead of trusting the one true God who created heaven and earth. Israel – God’s own chosen people – had betrayed their covenant. The nations surrounding Israel had ransacked God’s people and burned their cities. The prophets at different times and places promised that God would punish these transgressions. There would be a day of reckoning. There would be a day of the Lord with war, captivity, famine, plagues and natural disasters.

The good news of Jesus coming as God’s Son the Messiah even in the New Testament Gospels only comes after John the Baptist prepares the way. First John proclaims a baptism of repentance, an opportunity for people to turn from their sins and turn to live in new ways; then Jesus can come with healing in his wings. “What must we do?” someone in the crowd asked John. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” The repentance that prepared the way for Jesus’ coming wasn’t only a change of heart, but also a change of life.

And Jesus was hardly all sweetness and light. He came proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14b-15) He told us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. He told the rich young man to sell all he had and give it to the poor in order to follow him. He taught us not to judge others. He taught us to forgive as we ourselves are forgiven. He told us that loving our neighbor was paramount to loving God. And hating our neighbor was paramount to despising God. He taught us that as we treat the poor and needy so we treat him – our Lord and Savior. He said that unless we take up our cross and our willing to die with him on that cross we will not find real life. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

Today, on this third Sunday of Advent, it’s easy to greet with joy the coming of our Lord and ignore the rest of the message of the prophets. Jesus doesn’t come to us as the Messiah, the Lord, without consequence. We can’t claim him as our Lord and Savior unless we also change our lives to reflect Jesus’ teachings. We can’t hope to live in the Kingdom of God unless our lives also practically reflect those Kingdom values. I hope that we can greet with great joy the coming of Jesus Christ our redeemer. But that joy is inauthentic if his coming does not also change our hearts, our perspectives, and our actions.

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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