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December 13, 2015, 9:33 AM

Give More?


Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Luke 3:7-18, CEB             
Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”
10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”
14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”
He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”
15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” 18 With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people.
 
“Give More?”
 
Earlier in the fall I discovered the Advent Conspiracy materials and was excited to make this our Advent journey this year.  However, I have to confess, as I began preparing for this Sunday, I was less excited by the theme of “Give More.” Give more? We had an awesome Stewardship campaign this year, with a wonderful response from the congregation. But haven’t really said enough for the time being on giving? And this close the Christmas, with all the activities of the season upon us, with shopping and parties and concerts and events…do we have any more to give? Is it fair to ask us to give more so close to Christmas?
 
And to compound this theme of giving more, we have John the Baptist in our midst.  What a juxtaposition of scriptures for today! First Philippians—“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, Rejoice!... And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will be with you.” “You children of snakes!” answers John. “Who told you to escape the coming judgment?!” Whew! And can’t you just picture John? I think he is the most visual of the characters we experience as we journey toward Christmas.  There he stands, on the banks of the Jordan, in the middle of nowhere. Dressed in camel fur, belt around the waist. A Nazarene—a religious order—that doesn’t cut hair or shave—so he has that long wild hair and beard, whipping about in the wind. Fists clenched, eyes a little wild, shouting across the coming crowd, “You brood of vipers!” Not the best way to start a sermon.
 
It is the third Sunday of Advent—Joy Sunday. Christmas is a week and a half away. Carols are in the air. We are getting a little tired from the busy schedule. Do we really have to spend time with this hairy, shouting prophet? Yes! O Joy!
 
John is wild, and harsh, and fanatical. He has come to shake people up, to shake them out of their complacency. The Lord is coming! Time to change your hearts and lives! And don’t think you can just lay back on the knowledge that you are a child of Abraham and therefore automatically ‘in’ with the covenant! No covenant living…not part of the covenant. This statement would have stunned and horrified the crowds. The covenant is the rock of their existence. They have been taught since childhood—you are a child of Abraham, a child of the eternal covenant. John insists that this is not the case. If they aren’t living the way the covenant calls them to, they are not in the covenant. It doesn’t matter that they are descended from Abraham.  Their response is absolutely natural—“What?!?! I’m not automatically part of the covenant?!?! Then what should I do!!!!!????”
 
What do you think they expected John’s answer to be? Were they quaking in their sandals? Thought he might make them walk through fire or some such thing? How much more amazing the answer!
 
“What should we do?” cries the crowd. Answer #1—Share what you have. Do you have two shirts? Then give one to someone who doesn’t have a shirt. Do you have food? Share with someone who does not. Share what you have. “What should we do?” cry the tax collector. Answer #2—Don’t take what isn’t yours. Only charge what you are authorized to charge. Be honest with your neighbors. Don’t take what isn’t yours. “What should we do?” cry the soldiers. Answer #3—Be honest as well. Be content with what you have. Wow! These are clear, simple, doable answers.
  1. Share what you have
  2. Don’t take what isn’t yours
  3. Be honest
  4. Be content with what you have.
This is fruitful living, covenant living, God’s way of living. Simple and to the point—what we learned in kindergarten. So why does God have to keep reminding us?
 
In these four Sundays of Advent, God reminds us because we do forget. We get bogged down in the weight of the world. We become overwhelmed, busy. We wrestle with such strong emotions through the holiday season. And we forget that we have an abundance to give that fills us up, does not empty us out. The Sundays of Advent reflect what we have to give. The first Sunday reminds us that we are a people of hope. What gift for a world filled with fear! We live in the hope of God’s commonwealth coming among us. We dwell in the hope of God’s image shining more brightly within us. We carry this hope everywhere we go in the world, giving it generously, and seeing it spread and grow.
 
The second Sunday of Advent reminds us that we are a people of peace. God’s peace, which passes all understanding, a peace that is grounded in justice. We carry this peace with justice into the world and speak up for the overlooked and unheard, we lift up the lowly as Mary’s song insists. And as we share that peace, it too spreads and grows. The third Sunday of Advent reminds us of joy—joy that thrives even in these dark days. Our joy is grounded in the sure knowledge that we are beloved of God, that we are kingdom citizens, that we live in the light of eternity. We share such joy with all the people we meet and watch it spread infectiously.
 
And finally, next Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, reminds us that we are people of love. Not just that wonderful emotion, love, but that action verb. Love calls us to embody John’s call each and every day—Share what we have, don’t take what isn’t ours, be honest, be content with what we have. Love—acts of compassion, comfort, service.
 
Advent, the start of a new church year, reminds us that we live on the other side of that baptism John warns of. We have entered the waters of baptism and been washed by grace. We have been kissed by the holy fire of the Spirit and carry that spark within us. Jesus is continually burning away that chaff within us so that we can be pure grain.
 
The Sunday of Joy reminds us to bear fruit—share what we have, don’t take what isn’t ours, be honest, be content with what we have. So simple. Covenant living. Let us go forth today recklessly and generously sharing hope, peace, joy, and love…and shining brightly with the flame of Christ! Amen!

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