In liturgical churches, the colors used to decorate the worship space are chosen to match the mood or spirit of the season. For many centuries, the color used for the season of Advent was purple. Purple is the same color used for the season of Lent; to evoke a somber, penitent mood appropriate for the season. But 20 or 30 years ago, a change was made. The color for Advent was changed to blue, to signify hope. I say this, because many of us use Advent wreaths during this season, and the color of most of the candles is now blue. There is also a white one for Christmas Day. But there’s that one pink, or rose candle, and that’s what we need to talk about. The rose candle is for the third Sunday of Advent. In Latin, it is called Gaudete Sunday, or “Joy” Sunday. We take a short break from our preparation and inward, penitent reflection to feel a little joy. We know that Jesus will be born on Christmas Day. We know that he brings us salvation; our joy is an appropriate feeling. This Sunday is reserved to feel a little joy along our Advent journey. But it is Advent, so you know it won’t last for long.
In the verses preceding today’s passage (verses 1-13, not shown), the prophet Zephaniah comes down hard on the political and religious leaders of the day. God wants his people to care for the poor, the widows, orphans, and foreigners; pretty much everyone who is disadvantaged in their society. Instead, those in political and religious power were more concerned with lining their own pockets than having pity on those in need. Verses 1-13 are addressed to those in power. Verses 14-20 are for everybody else. They are a song of joyful victory that God will deliver over their oppression. This is the message of hope that Zephaniah received from the Lord.
- We are to sing, and shout, and rejoice, and exult with all our hearts. This sure does sound joyful. But why? (v. 14)
- We get two good reasons: 1) God has decided not to judge us for our wrongdoings, and 2) we have a new and righteous king in our midst! (v. 15)
- Verse 16 starts out “on that day”, so I guess we are still waiting. God will be in their midst. (Sounds like Jesus to me!) The verses following give greater detail as to and how we will rejoice. (vv. 16-17)
- Next, we learn why we will rejoice.
- Disaster will be no more
- God will deal with our oppressors
- He will save the lame and outcast
- Shame will change to praise
- We will be renowned and praised by others
- Our fortunes will be restored
These really are great things to be joyful about! (vv. 18-20)
Since we know that the Messiah is coming, these words ring with a new meaning. Jesus is this righteous king. He is our warrior who gives us victory—the victory over death.
This is Paul’s “love letter” to the church in Philippi. Since the bible is God’s word for us, it is also God’s love letter to us.
- The opening phrase in this passage is right in line with the theme for this Sunday—“rejoice”. Rejoicing is the active form of feeling joy. By rejoicing, we show that we have joy in our hearts. Why do we feel this joy? It is because our Lord is near. He is coming soon! (v. 4)
- We are to “let our ‘gentleness’ be known to everyone”. I don’t think they mean the sort of gentleness that is soft and wishy-washy. It’s all about how we show God’s love to others. They are talking about the kind of gentleness that comes from having kind compassion for those around us. We can show God’s love by being a judgmental “bull in the china shop”, or we can lovingly care for our brothers and sisters in Christ in kind gentleness. Which do you think would be more effective? (v. 5)
- Next, we are told how to manage our worrying. (If we worry about things, it’s hard to be joyful.) To eliminate this road block, we should pray “in supplication and thanksgiving”. We all know that thanksgiving is being thankful for God’s blessings. Supplication is a big word which means to ask God for things. See, the word “supply” is hidden in that word. We are asking God to supply is with the things we need to eliminate our worry. (v. 6)
In school, I learned that if a teacher repeats himself, the point he’s trying to make is an important one. Paul starts off this passage by repeating himself, saying “rejoice” twice. Also, he is writing this from a dark, dank Roman prison cell. If he can feel the joy of Jesus there, we most certainly can feel that joy in our lives.
Washing away worry with prayer is good advice. Ask God to give us what we need to eliminate the worry, so we can feel the joy and do some rejoicing. Jesus is coming!
Last week, we got an introduction to John the Baptist. We heard his father’s hymn of praise to God, and John’s mission was made clear in the Old Testament references. Today, we get to see John in action.
- John does not mince words. He gets straight to the point, calling the crowds a “brood of vipers”, or a bag of snakes! (v. 7)
- He doesn’t dwell on the name-calling long. He tells them to repent. No. Not just to repent, but to bear fruits of repentance. In other words, don’t just feel sorry about your sinful nature, do something about it!!! (v. 8a)
- The second part of verse 8 needs a little explanation. Remember that John the Baptist and the crowds were all Jews. They were “children of Abraham”. John challenges them to put their heritage aside, and consider their sinful nature head-on. In order to understand the impact of his statement, I suggest that we substitute our denomination for “children of Abraham”. Here are two examples,
- If you are Lutheran, like me, John’s statement would be “Do not even think of saying ‘but ‘I’ve been a Lutheran for over 30 years, how can you talk to me about sinning?’ [John says] God can change these rocks into Lutherans if he so desired!”
- If you are a Baptist, John’s statement might be “Do not even think of saying ’But I’ve been a Baptist my whole life. My family has been Baptists as far back as I can remember, how can you talk to me about sinning? We love the Lord!’ [John says] God can change these rocks into Baptists if he wanted to!”
John’s point here is that regardless of who we are, what we are, or what we have done, we all need to reflect on our sinful nature. (v. 8b)
- John’s speech includes a little fire and brimstone, as well. He reminds us that God holds the power of life and death over us. I am thankful that “God is patient and kind, abounding in steadfast love”. (v. 9)
- John’s sermon must have had the desired effect. People ask how they can “bear fruits of repentance”. (v. 10) John gives them three examples.
- If you have two coats, give one away. (v. 11) Jesus also said this. The point here is that we should share from our abundance.
- Tax collectors should “collect no more than the amount prescribed”. (v. 13) Tax collectors were notorious for abusing their authority. Their job was to collect taxes from the locals for the Roman Empire. But in doing so, most would collect more than what was due, and pocket the difference.
- Roman soldiers should “not extort money… [but] be satisfied with your wages”. (v. 14) The Roman soldier was an ominous and powerful presence. Many would abuse this power, and force people to do things such as extort (a fancy word for robbing) money from people.
Well, we started out this study in a joyful mood. I guess with the Gospel lesson, that party is over! We are pulled back into the hard work of Advent, preparing the way of the Lord by inward penitent reflection.
When we have dinner guests, two things must be done. Not only must we prepare the meal, but we must prepare our home for our guests’ arrival. We would never think of having people over to a dirty house—the house gets a thorough cleaning. Our Advent reflection and repentance is the way we clean our spiritual “house”.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Jesus is coming on Christmas Day. Is your “house” clean?