Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Advent 12/16/2018

I was asked last week about the color of the Advent candles. We’ve gone to using four blue candles which is the recommended ELCA practice these days but in other churches or perhaps on your Advent wreath at home you might have three blue candles and one pink or rose colored one or three purple, one rose. Customs do vary these days as the color for Advent varies, but if a rose candle is included, it is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, today, which is known as Gaudete Sunday, gaudete meaning “rejoice.” Joy and rejoicing are all over the lessons today, except for the gospel where John the Baptist is still at his out of step best addressing the crowd as a brood of vipers.

The theme of rose colored joy and rejoicing is appropriate for us today though on this Sunday when for the most part, the word is proclaimed musically by the choir and the Sunday School. Before that though, having commented on the words of the prophets on the first two Sundays of Advent, I want to continue that with a little bit on the reading from Zephaniah, today’s prophet.

It is a reading marked by hope and rejoicing: “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord your God is in your midst; he will rejoice over you with gladness.” It doesn’t get much better than that! “Do not fear,” is the overarching theme of these last words of Zephaniah’s prophecy. What’s interesting is that these words of hope and rejoicing and “do not fear” follow three and a half chapters of warnings about a fearful judgment. There is judgment on the enemies of the holy city of Jerusalem but even more there is judgment on Jerusalem itself for unjust social and political practices, for straying from the way of the Lord and worshiping false gods. The resulting judgment means that “The people shall walk like the blind, their blood shall be poured out like dust, the whole earth shall be consumed.” It doesn’t get much worse than that.

The words of joy at the end of Zephaniah’s prophecy do kind of come out of nowhere; but that is the nature of the gospel. Christmas is just a little more than a week away now. Today’s readings do begin to move us in that direction, beginning to prepare us for Christmas rejoicing; we are a little bit less out of step today. But still, when you think about it, what we celebrate on Christmas also comes out of nowhere. Upon reflection, the words of the prophets can be seen as foretelling the birth of Jesus, but at the time, no one was expecting God to become human in a baby born in “such a backward time in such a strange land” to borrow words from Jesus Christ Superstar. It really did come out of nowhere.

Because of that, the use of the relatively obscure prophet Zephaniah today is quite appropriate. His song of joy following three and a half chapters of horrific warning about judgment provides evidence that such words of judgment are not the last word. Despite the fact that punishment is deserved, by grace, out of nowhere, God chooses a different path. As God becomes human in the baby whose birth we will celebrate, the sentence of punishment is revoked, replaced by hope.

Even with that though, the words of John the Baptist bear our attention, harsh words that call for repentance. It’s another reminder that the gospel doesn’t come without knowledge of the law, that while the gift is free and undeserved, it does call for a response.

Today though, John the Baptist doesn’t get the last word; instead it’s the choir and the Sunday School as they announce the rose colored joy of the gospel.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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