Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – Third Sunday of Advent
Luke 3:7-18 (Give More)
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – December 16, 2018
As we’ve been working our way through Advent, we’ve heard the call to Worship Fully and to Spend Less, focusing less on ourselves and more on God and others. Which brings us to our third week’s theme: “Give More.” In an already jam-packed season, I have to say, hearing the words “give more” makes me channel my inner Scotty from Star Trek: “I’ve giv’n her all she’s got captain, an’ I canna give her no more.” What do you mean “give more?!” I thought I was trying to cut things out to focus on Christ?!
To clarify, the invitation to give more is an invitation to “give more intentionally and relationally.” Instead of doing the holiday thing for the sake of doing the holiday thing or just buying random things for people to cross them off the list, it’s a call to be fully present. And this call to live fully awake and connected to God and each other pairs well with the traditional Advent theme of this Sunday: joy! Giving to others without thinking of what we’ll gain and spending intentional time with one another multiplies our joy and helps us see God’s nearness all around us.
While John the Baptizer starts off his sermon to the crowd as the fiery prophet we’ve come to know and love him as, his words to those who are seeking genuine repentance are very practical. John is preaching good news. He’s not calling people to anything new or different than what they’ve already heard in God’s commands. He’s calling them to repent – to turn around and make a new start, to know that they are forgiven, and to really live like it – to bear fruit worthy of repentance. He wants them, and us, to understand that doesn’t just mean hearing you’ve been forgiven and continuing to do the same things, but living in a way that reflects that you have been forgiven. Living in a way that shows that you are seeking to walk with God. Sharing with others, not cheating or bullying, and refusing to use our positions for greed or the abuse of others.
John may be a wilderness ascetic, but he’s not calling us to be. He’s calling us to live in a way that treats others with respect, dignity, love, care, and rejoices in the relationships we have with God and with each other. His good news prepares us to live in a way that honors God and one another.
John the Baptist talks about those who don’t bear good fruit as being thrown on the fire, but when we share ourselves intentionally and humbly with one another, our joy is multiplied. Like embers uniting together, our individual sparks come together in a blazing fire of hope and joy, burning brightly!
Likewise, Paul understood this when writing to the church in Philippi. Even though he was imprisoned while writing this letter, he urged the church to rejoice! To be filled with joy – not a joy that comes and goes, but one built on trust and able to continue because of an ongoing relationship with God. His imperative telling them to let their gentleness be known to everyone is also telling. As New Testament scholar Holly Hearon explains: This Greek word really means, “‘not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom.’ To embody epieikes means to recognize that we have a choice in how we behave towards others. It is not just about being nice or kind; it is about the exercise of power.” Paul uses this along with a word meaning “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” to describe Christ. In other words, to choose not to exercise one’s power or to use it differently, means having self-awareness and humility as Christ did. That is how we are to interact with others. Because as we look with eager hope toward Christmas, we remember the God who gave all, taking on flesh, experiencing life and death. The God who, though he was rich, became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich.
When we hear the words “give more” – it is this kind of humble and intentional approach we are to have with our sisters and brothers. It is a reminder to take ourselves lightly and find meaning in our relationships with others. Give more is a call to simple joy and presence – to contentedness and simplifying so we can really give thanks, rejoice in, and appreciate the simple things. It is a call to be mindful of how we treat one another and care for the least of these. Because it is there that we find what is truly important. It is a call not to get caught in or worry about the inconsequential, but to pray and give thanks. It is a call to find already in our hearts the joy and peace of God, which surpass all understanding and all circumstances we may find ourselves in.
So where are you finding joy lately? I’ve been finding joy in trying to be more present to my family, neighbors, others in the office, and even in the larger community. Slowing down to have conversations, laugh, and tell others how much I appreciate them. It’s simple when you think about it, but practicing this has opened up my eyes to how often those I care about don’t get my full attention. Television, smart phones, to do lists, my own agenda… they can all get in the way of being present and attentive to others.
But when we slow down and step outside ourselves, small, but beautiful miracles occur. Like the story Becky Tuthill posted on Facebook: “My mom took my brother Jerry Christmas shopping for his nieces and nephews yesterday at Birchwood Mall. For those who don’t know my big brother, he has pretty severe autism. They took a walk by Santa, so Jerry could say, ‘hi’. There wasn’t anybody in line, and Santa and his wonderful helpers insisted Jerry come get his picture taken! Which is something we usually don’t do with him being now 31 years old. My mom said she couldn’t really afford a picture package at the moment and they still insisted he get his picture taken. Jerry told Santa he wanted Disney sing-a-longs on DVD and Santa gifted him a Shrek doll that he LOVES! Then they handed my mom a picture package free of charge. So, I would just like to extend my BIGGEST THANK YOU to Santa and all of his amazing helpers! You are the true spirit of Christmas. My family and I are forever thankful for this kind gesture.”
This is a beautiful story, but it’s even more beautiful because it sparked other people sharing similar stories about other kind, generous, and simply attentive mall Santas. It doesn’t require much of us to give more. It simply requires a shift. It’s a call to repent. To prepare for Christ’s coming. To turn and spend time with God and others. And to find true, lasting joy and peace there.
I’ll leave you with a poem and blessing from John Daniel entitled “A Prayer among Friends:”
Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn’t ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
May we enact our responsibilities
as thoroughly as we enjoy
May we see with clarity,
may we seek a vision
that serves all beings, may we honor
the mystery surpassing our sight,
and may we hold in our hands
the gift of good work
and bear it forth whole, as we
were borne forth by a power we praise
to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.