Christ’s presence in our midst in the wonder of the holy supper is cause for singing. The nearness of the God in prayer, in every circumstance, is cause for rejoicing. The coming of one “more powerful” than John, even with a winnowing fork in hand, is good news—and cause for exultation—for us who are being saved. Great joy is the tone for the third Sunday of Advent.
Readings and Psalm
- Zephaniah 3:14-20
Rejoice, the Lord is in your midst
- Isaiah 12:2-6
In your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Is. 12:6)
- Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice, the Lord is near
- Luke 3:7-18
One more powerful is coming, baptizing with fire
No More Business as Usual
Lutherans looking for gospel may hear John the Baptizer’s preaching as primarily law. It can be difficult to reconcile his fire-and-brimstone style with the joy that traditionally belongs to the third Sunday of Advent. Yet despite John’s harsh words for the crowds, the people seem eager for his teaching—”What then should we do?” They keep asking questions fervently, even when the answers call them to higher expectations of moral and selfless living.
It’s the kind of teaching that people associate with the Messiah: good news that business as usual is on the way out and something new is on its way in. The status quo of greed, selfishness, scarcity, and complacency no longer has power. A new day of mutual sharing and justice is almost here. Images of the winnowing fork and the ax at the root of the tree suggest clearing out old habits and fears to make room for something new. In calling people to repentance, John invites them to turn away from the old life and turning toward God’s new life.
John has even better news: The Messiah is indeed coming, one who will not only call people to high expectations, but also enable that faithful living. Because the Messiah is coming to baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire,” life will never be the same. Through baptism business as usual will be replaced by a fruit-bearing, joy-yielding, grace-filled relationship with God. It’s an excellent reason to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16): The Lord is near!