13 December 2015

The third week of Advent continues the journey with John the Baptist, focussing on his preaching and the call to justice that he proclaimed. It is ironic that this season has become one in which the inequalities and injustices of our world are so starkly revealed. But, this reality also gives us an opportunity to hear John’s call more strongly, and to see more clearly how we are to respond.

May our worship this week challenge us to face the great injustices in our world, and the small injustices in our hearts.

Zephaniah 3:14-20: A call for God’s people to rejoice because God has restored and forgiven God’s people, and now lives in the midst of them, bringing them joy and healing, and including all the marginalised and oppressed ones.

Isaiah 12:2-6: A song of praise for the God who is the salvation of God’s people, their strength and shield, who does glorious things for God’s people, and is great among them.

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice, pray and give thanks, and God’s peace will fill you, for God is near.

Luke 3:7-18: John confronts the people about their corruption and injustice, and challenges them to change their lives. When they ask what they must do, he calls them to generosity, justice and compassion. Then, when the people wonder whether he might be the Messiah, John tells them that he is not, but that one is coming after him who will baptise them with the Holy Spirit.

John’s message, which challenges us to live with justice and compassion, is the central focus of this week. The same basic message resonates through all of the passages. In Zephaniah, the song of restoration speaks of God’s restoration and forgiveness, but makes a point of embracing those who are vulnerable and marginalised specifically in the vision of God’s grace. Similarly, Isaiah’s message speaks of God’s salvation and the rejoicing that comes to those whom God has restored. In Philippians, the believers are called to a life of rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving because of God’s nearness, and the assurance is offered that this life brings unspeakable peace. Finally, in the Gospel, John makes it clear that God’s coming is not just a joyous event in which we are accepted and forgiven with no cost on our part. Rather, God’s people are called to change their lives in accordance with God’s saving purpose, essentially becoming agents of God’s salvation to one another. This is the message we need to hear this week. Yes, God is always coming to us, bringing salvation and life. But, this coming calls for a response from us in which we commit to lives that share grace and salvation, that empower and restore one another through acts of justice and compassion. If we really believe that God’s Reign has come in Christ, we cannot help but recognise the need for this to change and direct our lives.

Global Application:
It is ironic that the season of God’s coming to us has, in the wealthy West,  become characterised by inflated prices, increased profit-seeking, rampant consumerism, and individualistic greed and excess, while in other parts of the world – notably Africa – the struggle for survival and for a meaningful place in the world’s decision making bodies continues. What might John the Baptist preach to us about this? If we really understood the “upside-down” Reign of God that John proclaimed, and that Jesus embodied, how might that change our approach to, and celebration of, this season? Until Advent and Christmas are times of rejoicing for all people, they are not really season of great joy at all. Until all people have enough – which is not an impossibility – we continue to miss the truth of God’s coming. As much as we might celebrate the salvation of God that we receive, we cannot ignore the call to be agents of that salvation to others. This means that, especially at this time, we need to embody the old cliché of thinking globally while acting locally. Where we have plenty, we can share with those who do not have enough. Where we have a voice, we can speak up for those who have been silenced. When we recognise that our citizenship in the Reign of God reaches across the globe, we can make choices about our consumption and ways of living that bring life to others. If, on the other hand, we ignore those in other parts of the world who suffer, we miss the point of God’s Reign, and of the Advent season, completely.

Local Application:
Who are the voiceless, excluded ones in your community? Who are the ones that a John the Baptist would call you to serve and include? What practices or ways of living would John challenge you on? What uses of your wealth might he question? Is there a way, this week, that your worship can overflow to the poorer communities and people around you? Can you use this Advent season to develop long term programs or strategies for embodying Christ’s coming to the people who most need to hear it in your neighbourhood, and perhaps the world? As we prepare for the season of incarnation, and explore what it means that God’s Reign is always coming to us, we need to make this about more than just happy ideas. It is only as God’s Reign becomes the focus of our lives that we can really enjoy – and share – the abundant life that Jesus brings. This is not just about giving money, or creating new charities. It’s really about building relationships with those who need friends and caring networks more than handouts. It’s about realising that we’re all connected, and that what dehumanises one, dehumanises us all. Perhaps, this year, instead of using this season as an escape from the world’s struggles, we can allow it to draw us more deeply into connectedness and mutual care.

An Uncomfortable Vision
It’s My Problem, Too
Putting Faith In Goodness

Advent Hymn (David Beswick)
Hallelujah! What A Saviour
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
O Spirit Of The Living God
It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
Prepare The Way (Link to YouTube video)
How Long?
Glory In The Highest (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for Advent & Christmas
A Liturgy of Compassion

Restored Fortunese
John The Baptist
A Voice In The Wilderness

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