The Third Sunday of Advent
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Luke 3:7-18

May my words be your word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

It’s really easy to dismiss John the Baptist as just another rabble-rouser, one of those crazies who stand on street corners. The person you occasionally see holding up a sign that reads, “Repent! The end is near!” In John’s case he’d be carrying a sign that said, “You brood of vipers, you’re fleeing from judgment because you know you’re guilty.”

I can understand why God wanted a messenger for the coming of Jesus, but why John? Why didn’t God send a smooth talker, a nice guy, an impressive presence in a crowd? You know, an advance man for Jesus: Some guy in a camel hair jacket with a pocketful of campaign buttons with catchy slogans. A guy who takes people to nice inns where they can have lunch and get convinced Jesus is the man.

Instead, we get John the Baptist in camel hair all right, but it’s not tailored, probably looked more like Tarzan than anything, wearing one of those one-shoulder outfits. Furthermore, John’s diet was terrible. No fancy energy bars, just trail mix made of locusts and wild honey. These are all things we hear from the writers of the other Gospels in addition to the things we hear in today’s Gospel of Luke.

I don’t know what each of you thinks about John, but I think it’s pretty impressive to hear, “You brood of vipers!! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I think having the courage to call people, “You brood of vipers,” is pretty impressive. It gets my attention every time.

John was bewildering. Who was this guy? He appeared out of the wilderness, shouting at people to repent. For heaven sake, John, give people a break. It’s a tough world.

The more we hear about John though, the more likeable he can become. Still a little frightening, but gradually, we begin to see John’s compassion for the crowd. He starts out roughly, but he himself was vulnerable, insecure, and compassionate. These are all things to which many of us can relate.

Like John, we’ve felt vulnerable when we’ve put ourselves out there for something in which we believe. We worried we might lose our job, lose our friends, maybe even anger our spouse, family, and friends.

We’ve felt insecure about what we were saying and doing, even if we acted confident. While John went about preaching and baptizing, he seemed confident, called, secure in what he did. Remember though, John was the guy who later asked his disciples, who visit him in prison, to go and ask Jesus if he is the Messiah or should they wait for someone else.“

Then there was John’s compassion for the crowd. He knew life was challenging. Doing the right thing was and is hard when you’re trying to feed your family, and make a living, and observe the law. John’s compassion shows when he addressed the crowd this way:

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

This was John’s compassion to the stresses of his time.
• To people who might be able to afford a couple of nice coats but not more.
• To tax collectors who were known for their dishonest attempts to line their own pockets by charging more than what was due.
• To soldiers who bullied and threatened to feel powerful and look tough.

This is why we hear John on this third Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time to rethink and rededicate ourselves to the corners of the world we touch. Those places we can touch with God’s grace, love, and mercy.

Jesus, the One who will return, claims each of us as his beloved, and calls us as a member of this particular corner of God’s beloved community. And, because He who will return is judge, we are not called to judge. Instead, we are called to share with others God’s grace, mercy and love that we have experienced. That grace, mercy and love that we personally have experienced is our call to share it with others.

The one who is born in our hearts each Christmastide has claimed us as God’s beloved. God’s desire for us is to freely give away the grace, mercy, and love we have experienced, rather than holding them tight against us. We are God’s beloveds, helping others know they are God’s beloveds. And, as we spread God’s grace, mercy, and love, remember we are all part of God’s story, the story that is never lost.

“Nothing is lost on the breath of God, nothing is lost for ever; God’s breath is love, and that love will remain, holding the world for ever. No feather too light, no hair too fine, no flower too brief in its glory; no drop in the ocean, no dust in the air, but is counted and told in God’s story.” AMEN.

The Rev Nicolette Papanek

1. Matthew
2. Luke 2:11-14 (NRSV)
3. Nothing is lost on the Breath of God. Words and Music by Colin Gibson, Hope Publishing, Copyright 1994. (Text derived from the writings of Hildegard von Bingen.)