Introduction & Welcome
Welcome to worship today, God’s gift to us because God is good! all the time!
and all the time! God is good!
Christ’s presence in our midst in the wonder of the holy supper is cause for singing. The nearness of 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.
Confession and Forgiveness
Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God,
who alone does wonders,
who lifts up the lowly,
who fills the hungry with good things.
Let us confess our sin, trusting in the tender mercy of our God.
Silence is kept for reflection.
God for whom we wait,
in the presence of one another,
we confess our sin before you.
We fail in believing that your good news is for us.
We falter in our call to tend your creation.
We find our sense of self in material wealth.
We fear those different from ourselves.
We forget that we are your children
and turn away from your love.
Forgive us, Blessed One,
and assure us again of your saving grace.
God, in Christ Jesus, has looked with favor upon you!
Through the power of the Holy Spirit,
☩ your sins are forgiven.
You are children of the Most High,
inheritors of the eternal promise,
and recipients of divine mercy.
God strengthens you anew to follow the way of peace.
Prayer of the Day
Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the preaching of John, that, rejoicing in your salvation, we may bring forth the fruits of repentance; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
The prophet Zephaniah’s message is mostly one of judgment for sin. This reading, however, which comes from the conclusion of the book, prophesies joy for Judah and Jerusalem. Judgment has led to repentance, and God’s salvation is at hand.
14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
17The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.
Psalm: Isaiah 12:2-6
In your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Is. 12:6)
2Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.
3With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
4And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name;
make known the deeds of the Lord among the nations; proclaim that this name is exalted.
5Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
6Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
Despite being in prison, Paul is remarkably upbeat as he writes this letter. Here, he urges his friends in Philippi to trust God with all their worries and concerns with the hope that they will experience God’s joy and peace.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Alleluia. I am sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you. Alleluia. (Matt. 11:10)
Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
John the Baptist heralds the mighty one who is coming. John teaches that preparation for God’s reign is not a matter of identity but of bearing fruits of merciful justice, radical generosity, and vocational integrity.
7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers 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.”
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Meditation by David O’Brien
When I worked at the prison, we correction officers had a lot of power over the lives of the inmates, or so it seemed. As a group, we controlled almost every aspect of their lives. When they went to bed and got up from bed. When they ate. When they were able to visit with their families, both on the phone and in person. When and if they took their prescribed medicines. Even their ability to go to the chapel for worship was often at the discretion of the officers on duty. That’s not to say that there wasn’t good reason for this. For example, often the out of the block activities, such as pill call, were used as excuses to pass contraband or to break some other rule. Some of the officers like to use their power in ways that were inappropriate, perhaps even abusive. Sometimes there was a financial incentive for this kind of activity, but other times it was simply that an officer might enjoy having that kind of power over another person. I was thinking of this situation when reading John’s advice to the tax collectors and soldiers. Basically, John told them to do their job, exercise their power appropriately, but don’t abuse it.
It seems to me that John was in tough love mode during at least part of this reading. It starts out with him essentially calling the people that came to him for baptism a bunch of hypocrites (“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”) and saying that they are no more special than anyone else (“God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”). He tells them that they should “bear fruits worthy of repentance”. I think that what he was trying to say is that for our repentance from our sin to be sincere, we should use it as an opportunity to reform how we live. If we have an abundance of something, we should share it with those less fortunate than ourselves, for example. If we have a position of authority, we should not use the power of that position to enrich ourselves unjustly. In this way, we can show that we mean it when we say that we are sorry for our sins.
John’s message is about how to prepare for Jesus and how to respond to the grace that Jesus brings. As Lutherans, we believe that we are saved by the grace of God which is given freely as a gift through Jesus Christ. The good works that John extols are a response to that saving grace, not a prerequisite to receiving that grace. When I give a gift to someone, I’m always hopeful that they will show some appreciation for it in some fashion or another. My six-year-old grandson’s birthday was last month. One of the gifts we gave him was a set of hot wheels cars. When he tore off the wrapping paper, he took one look at them and proclaimed “awesome!” I think he liked them. That simple proclamation, especially given the fact that he has a form of autism, not only showed his appreciation, but it was also a gift to us. When God forgives our sins, the best gift we could ever receive, how can we show our appreciation? By trying to reflect that grace in some small measure to our fellow humans. We in this country are blessed with all kinds of abundances. We should share some of what we have with others who are in need. We can do this by donating to organizations like the Lutheran World Relief, or any other organization that attempts to alleviate suffering in the world. We don’t even have to look into other parts of the world to find opportunities to share some measure of God’s grace. Lutheran Social Services, Cherry Street Mission and the Salvation Army all try to work for those less fortunate here in our own communities. As much as I enjoyed hearing my grandson say “awesome”, how much more will God rejoice when we show our appreciation for his gift of grace by trying to share it with his other children?
In this time of Advent, we can prepare for Christ by ensuring that whatever work we do, we try to contribute to the good of the community. Volunteer to help others. If you see a mess, clean it up. If you see someone who is voiceless, give them voice. If you find someone who is forgotten, remember them. If you see sin, call it out, name evil for what it is. May we work to make the paths straight and smooth by opening our hearts to God’s grace and asking how we can show Him that we are grateful.
Prayers of Intercession
In this season of watching and waiting, let us pray for all people and places that yearn for God’s presence.
A brief silence.
Holy God, renew your church and raise up leaders, like Daniel & Elizabeth, our bishops, and Howard, our pastor, who announce your good news. Grant peace to congregations and seminarians in the midst of transition. Guide the work of candidacy and call committees. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Creating God, your Spirit brought forth the earth and all that is in it. Breathe life into us, that we are inspired to live in harmony with one another and the planet, so that we will be good stewards of what you have entrusted to us. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Shepherding God, you lead your people in paths of righteousness. Raise up prophets in our own day who warn against captivity to greed and point us to the freedom found in generosity. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Nurturing God, you come near in times of worry and need. Cradle us in your arms, that we trust you and are not afraid. Attend to any who are hungry, imprisoned, or ill this day especially those whom we remember on our prayer list. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Rejoicing God, you exult over us in singing. Enliven the song of this assembly and bless the ministry of church musicians. With instruments and dance, join our voices to the song of all creation. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
We give you thanks for your servants who showed us your goodness and grace. By the power of your Spirit, keep us steadfast in faith until we make our home with you. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
God of new life, you come among us in the places we least expect. Receive these prayers and those of our hearts, in the name of Jesus.
Together, let us profess our faith using the words of the Apostles Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
And now, as our Savior, Christ, continues to teach us, we boldly pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.
God of hope, fill us with all joy and peace in believing,
so that we may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
through Christ Jesus for whom we wait.
Go in peace. Christ is near.
Thanks be to God.