In our Hebrew Bible reading the prophet Zephaniah tells the Israelites to “sing aloud” and “rejoice” for the Lord has “taken away the judgments against you.” As part of the judgments being removed the Israelites will be restored to their land, and the nations surrounding the Israelites will marvel at what the Lord has done for Israel. This text invites us to worship in light of the great joy that accompanies a received grace.
Our Psalm lection is actually a poetic text taken from the prophet Isaiah. It’s message is nearly identical with our reading from Zephaniah. Here the Lord is called the ‘salvation” of the people,and the salvation that God gives once again calls forth praise and shouts of joy. Another common theme our text from Isaiah shares with our Zephaniah reading is the inclusion of the nations surrounding Israel in the blessing Israel receives. The nations are told of the great deeds of God on behalf of Israel and they marvel. These two texts remind us that one of the tasks given to the recipients of grace is to share the good news of that grace with others.
Our NT epistle reading is among my favorite apostolic admonitions in all the New Testament. Here the apostle Paul, while incarcerated no less, says “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice…let your gentleness be known…do not worry about anything…let your requests be made known to God.” The result of this “positive” outlook
with a heart turned to the will of God is the realization of the “peace of God” in our lives which “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
John doesn’t make any friends with his preaching! Instead he meets the eager crowds that come out to hear his message with name calling and costly calls to repentance. Oddly enough, the people that come to hear him still consider him as a possibility for fulfilling the role of Messiah. Apparently the Word of God is recognizable for what it is, even when that Word cuts sharply into our lives carving out self serving behavior.
John will conclude his speech to the people in the book of Luke by saying that he is not the Messiah, but that one is coming after him who will do more than just baptize with water (as John was doing in the Jordan) but who will baptize with water and fire. John’s picture however of the Messiah is not entirely comforting, for John depicts the Messiah as one who comes with his “winnowing fork in hand” ready to separate the “wheat from the chaff.”
Once again we encounter in this text the call to preparation for the coming Messiah (lest we be shown to be part of the chaff and not the wheat). Preparation for John in the book of Luke is a call to social justice: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Celebration of Worship
We are presented with two contrasting images of the coming salvation in our Hebrew Bible reading and Psalm and our Gospel lection. In the Hebrew Bible our salvation is depicted as a joyous occasion of singing to the Lord, and proclaiming to the nations God’s goodness. In our gospel reading however John depicts the coming salvation as a time of
judgment and needed repentance. Both images are advent images.
This Sunday (being the third Sunday of Lent) is traditionally associated with the Joy of the coming of the Christ (this is the week we light the rose colored candle–the joy candle). However, the gospel reading reminds us that joy is achieved by living a life in keeping with the generosity of God. The more we concern ourselves with the needs of others, the more we live the joyful life. Joy is a product of justice.