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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Advent 12/13/2015

We’ve had a dose of Christmas this morning, a welcome dose I might add; the voices of children always have a way of brightening the season. But lest you start feeling too Christmas-y remember I said a couple of weeks ago that John the Baptist always shows up during the two middle weeks of Advent to dampen any Christmas cheer you might be feeling? Well, I guess this morning along with John the Baptist and the weather, I kind of play the role of wet blanket, bringing us back to the themes of Advent with a short reflection on today’s lessons.

One of the central themes of Advent, one of the core convictions of our faith is that there is a mighty one who is coming. There is the conviction that God has acted before and will act again and one of the ways that gets talked about in the Bible is in terms of the Day of the Lord, in the New Testament it can be the Day of Jesus Christ. What’s interesting though is how differently that day can be anticipated and described by different prophets. For example, from the prophet Zephaniah today we get comforting words of hope and deliverance, but in the reading from Luke, John the Baptist announces a day of awesome judgment. Either way though, something is going to happen.

First though, with Zephaniah it’s all good, with God coming in power to restore fortunes, especially for those who need it most, those who are oppressed, the lame and the outcast. According to Zephaniah the Lord will transform all of those situations. The people of Israel at that time remembered that the Lord had acted in this way before and they were called to believe not just that it could happen again, but that it would happen again because their God was still present. Then and now, God’s presence serves to cast out fear; it ends threat and allows us to be at home.

That’s the message of Zephaniah so this isn’t wet blanket stuff; it’s all about hope and it’s hope that still needs to be proclaimed but in light of current events I can imagine your skepticism about casting out fear and ending threat. God transforming our world anytime soon doesn’t seem likely but the possibility of transformation back then seemed just as unlikely. Still, Zephaniah and other prophets dared to announce hope. They didn’t say how it was going to happen, only that the power of God would ultimately prevail. That promise and hope is part of the message of Advent. But here comes the wet blanket.

Zephaniah’s vision is quite different from the vision of John the Baptist who offered warnings of the wrath to come and unequivocal demands for repentance in preparation for the arrival of Jesus. There’s no wondrous gift here just terrible threat and terrible threat is not how we imagine Jesus especially at this time of year when we prepare to celebrate his birth as a baby. “You brood of vipers” isn’t what we want to hear a couple of weeks before Christmas but John the Baptist’s bluntness is a reminder that the one to come poses challenges, challenges concerning how we live in anticipation of that arrival. So the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

In a way that’s always the question and the answers given by John the Baptist are still relevant as they all have to do with treating others with compassion and justice. Share with those in need; don’t act in ways that oppress others, don’t extort and cheat others. The emphasis is on just and fair dealings in all relationships. As harsh as his tone is what the Baptist calls for in terms of behavior that reflects repentance, isn’t that harsh; it’s doable. We can come closer to being the people God would have us be. The blanket isn’t so wet after all.

Still, there is tension regarding the mighty one who is to come, tension concerning the Day of the Lord. Is it a day of deliverance or a day of judgment, a day we should anticipate with joy or with fear? As I think is always the case with biblical tension, it’s both. It’s tension that we’re meant to live with, sometimes to struggle with, as we engage the journey of faith. Most of the time our minds can’t deal with both aspects of the tension so we go back and forth like we do during Advent, sometimes focusing on hope, sometimes on the challenges.

About now though, at (time) on the Third Sunday of Advent, we begin the shift to joy in anticipation of Christmas. The kids gave us a preview this morning but even for Advent purists, the themes of Advent begin to overlap with anticipation of Christmas. We’re more in sync with the wider culture for the next couple of weeks.

The wet blanket can be put away. It’s time to celebrate.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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