Last Sunday, as you might remember, we spent some time talking about the season of Advent. We talked about how Advent is intended to be a season of hopefulness and of joyful expectation. In retrospect, I realized that the sermon I preached last week might actually have been even more fitting to preach today! Today is Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice.” It’s the Sunday of joy. Today we lit the rose candle in our advent wreath. Historically, Advent has been considered a kind of mini-Lent – a season of solemnity and fasting and penitence. And even though the church has moved more toward seeing this as a season of expectation and preparation, it’s still good to be reminded that we are waiting for something joyful: the coming of the kingdom of God, Christ’s reign of justice, peace, and love on earth.
When I was a little girl growing up, the time leading up to Christmas was my favorite time of year. Like most kids, I was excited at the prospect of getting a long break from school, and most of all, I was excited to get presents! My family always had a very strict protocol about the proper time for opening presents. We waited until Christmas morning. My brother and sister and I would wake our parents up at an ungodly early hour and be told to go back to bed a few times before they finally got up. My dad would then shuffle downstairs to get his camera while the three of us waited with Mom at the top of the stairs, until Dad was ready for us to come down. I have no idea what all Dad was actually doing downstairs – but I do remember that it always took foreeeeeeever for him to give us the go-ahead to come down. Maybe it just seemed like an interminably long time because I was so small and impatient (as opposed to large and impatient, like I am now). But I vividly remember sitting at the top of that long, narrow staircase in my pajamas, waiting with my brother and sister, our little butts scooched right to the very edge of the top stair. I remember the electric feeling of excitement in my whole body, like a coiled up spring, just waiting to bounce down those stairs as fast as my little legs could go.
This waiting, this excitement and expectation, is what the season of Advent is all about. We are waiting with bated breath – not knowing yet what exactly we will find at the bottom of the stairs, but trusting that it will be marvellous and worth the wait.
We made it! We made it through another year, to Christmas Day. It’s kind of funny – even though this is technically the beginning of the liturgical season of Christmas, for most of us, today actually tends to mark the end of our Christmas celebration. Churches that were packed with people last night on Christmas Eve often look a little sparser on Christmas morning. I imagine folks are sleeping in, digesting their Christmas feasts. Family members are preparing to fly or drive back to the places that they came from.
And tomorrow, everything goes back to normal. The bright, colorful wrapping paper that once held mystery and surprise will get chucked into the trash. Cherished Nativity scenes will be carefully wrapped up and packed away to wait another year. The twinkling lights will be taken down. Before too long, dried out Christmas trees will be dragged to the curb, and even the clearance shelves at all the stores will soon be emptied to make way for the next big commercial holiday. Continue reading “Sermon: The Bearable Lightness of Being”
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
“Encountering the Living Word” preaching course
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
The violent language of wrath and destruction in this text is kind of surprising and off-putting. Unquenchable fire and axes are not themes we usually associate with our God of love. Less so during Advent. During Advent, the secular world is usually already in full-blown Christmas mode, and we – in our quiet Christian way – are preparing ourselves for the birth of sweet little baby Jesus.
What is John even so mad about in this text anyway? He’s hanging out in the wilderness, baptizing the huge crowds of people that are coming to him from every which way. I mean, he’s baptizing everybody. Why is it so shocking and upsetting then that the Pharisees and Sadducees are among the crowd as well? Why are they singled out and separated as being somehow worse or more sinful than the rest? Continue reading “Brooding on Vipers: An Out of Season Advent Sermon”