First Reading Zephaniah 3:14-20
Psalm Canticle 9
Second Reading Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel Luke 3:7-18
“Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Stir up thy power, O Lord.” That is how our opening Collect begins today. “Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.” And in just over a week, we will celebrate Christmas, the Incarnation, God intimately invested in humanity through the birth of Jesus Christ.
But before Jesus’ birth, ordinarily human and extraordinarily divine, we anticipate that God will stir it up. If you have ever made grits, you know what I am talking about. I am not referring to those little single serve imposter packets, claiming to be grits, where you just add hot water. We will not blaspheme in this place. I am talking about true grit, like maw maw used to make. Before this uniquely southern ambrosia actually become grits, they have to cook. The heat must be hot enough, but not too hot. The water must be ready to receive the grits. Then, the great transformation begins. Yet it must be accompanied by stirring. Without the stirring, your grits will be lumpy, or even worse, burn in the bottom of the pot. You may season to personal preference, but the secret to perfect grits is in the stirring.
God has been stirring up salvation throughout time. Creation itself was a great stirring of nothingness into something, a labor of love. God was whipping up something in the divine kitchen for humanity to join in, care for, and enjoy. The whole purpose of this divine banquet is to bring God and humanity together, sharing in the ultimate home cooked meal. But like rebellious, finicky children, we reject what is on the plate in front of us. Though it is good for us, we don’t want the broccoli. Perhaps we want grits.
God sent prophets through the ages to call us back to the table. In the book of the prophet Zephaniah, there is nothing but judgement and punishment, until we get to our reading today, the Song of Joy. The prophet offers a public invitation to respond to the table of salvation God has set. He encourages the people to “sing aloud” and God will respond in kind. God’s song is one of victory, rejoicing over us with gladness, renewing us in his love. God’s song of salvation removes disaster and reproach, ends oppression, saves the lame and gathers the outcast ... gathers us all, and brings us home to God’s banquet table. If it were not written centuries before the birth of Jesus, we might imagine Zephaniah is talking about the Eucharist. Perhaps he is.
Perhaps the most vigorous salvific stirrer, besides Jesus himself, is John the Baptist. To prepare the way of the Lord, John must stir the religious pot, and flip the people’s understanding of grace and salvation upside down. The common understanding for God’s chosen people was that ultimate salvation and deliverance was guaranteed because they are children of Abraham. John admonishes this thinking by calling them a “brood of vipers,” literally offspring or children of vipers. Abraham is the father of Israel, but birthright alone is no substitute for repentance, turning around, reorienting, and turning toward God. Resurrection of the dead and creating from nothingness are both in God’s realm of possibility. By the gift of Spirit and faith, God can transformation each of our lives. God’s claiming of all humanity is the ultimate birthright. John the Baptist calls for repentance, but equally as important encourages us to respond with deeds appropriate to conversion. This is how we fully prepare the way of the Lord.
Tax collectors and soldiers come forward, seeking and discerning. These groups are not well thought of, but they seek reorienting toward God, unlike the self-certain, self-righteous religious elite. They ask, “What should we do?” John responds to these according to their reputations. If you are a tax collector, do your work fairly, as God would have you do. If you are a soldier, understand your place as a servant, as God would have you be. “Even now” judgement is unfolding, and compels us to ask a question of ourselves, between each of us and God, for there is no other judge ... Are you bearing fruit? Is your behavior, action, and activity serving God’s kingdom? Whatever the vocation, we are to be as God calls and intends us to be. There is hope for tax collectors and soldiers, and there is hope for all of us.
John knows his vocation, and lives into who God calls him to be. The people are filled with expectation of the coming of the Messiah. Is it possible John is the Messiah? John responds with an emphatic “No!” John makes it clear that there is one greater to come. The Messiah is at hand, and the difference should be obvious. John is preparing the way with a cleansing baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, necessary to make ready our selves, our souls, and bodies. The One to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. In this reference to Pentecost, the Advocate will come, filling us with Christ’s Spirit in the presence of fire. Fire may sound like an instrument of judgement. But fire is also a tool of transformation, able to melt and mold even the hardest of metals. Fire, and constant stirring, also make really good grits.
Advent is not simply a passive time of waiting for the birth of Jesus. Advent invites us into a time of contemplation ... to repent, reorient, and respond. We should not rush through this season, but remain, marinate, and allow it to season our faith.
We are also called to stir the pot. Preparing the way of the Lord involves discerning where there is room for growth and improvement, and then acting. We are called to righteous indignation where there is injustice and oppression. We are called to speak for those who have no voice. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and where the world is broken, offer healing. We are to peacefully protest any systems that do not promote or look like the love of Jesus ... caring for the needy, comforting the suffering, reconciling broken relationships, and building community. We must be unwilling to accept the world as humanity would present it, and work toward God’s vision. These are not platitudes. This is how we participate in what God is cooking.
Soon we will celebrate the incarnation, and experience the possibility and promise of peace. Then, we must get back into the kitchen where God is whipping up a kingdom banquet. God has shared the recipe, and is inviting us to participate. Let us prepare the way of the Lord, add some heat and stir vigorously. Amen.