Sermon – 3rd Sunday of Advent

December 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm Leave a comment

Advent 3C

December 13, 2009

Grace and peace from the One who was, and who is, and who is to come, the Almighty.

The movie The Longest Day begins with the sound of drums beating out a march rhythm

as different scenes are shown of the fifth year of the occupation of France

during World War II.

In the sleepy little town of Ste Mere Eglise, not far from the Normandy coast,

just inland from a stretch of shore that would soon be known forever as “Omaha Beach,”

we are shown a Catholic priest preaching the Sunday homily.

He speaks of the long suffering of the people,

and then says in a stirring voice,

“But for all of us, deliverance is coming!”

The first and second readings speak to the longing of the people of Israel

for deliverance from their oppressors;

Both the prophet Zephaniah and the apostle Paul

promise God’s mighty acts for the people,

urging them to sing and rejoice as they wait for the deliverance that is surely coming.

But our Gospel reading today does not seem to match the tone

set by the first two readings.

At the outset, John the Baptist does not seem to be preaching a comforting message,

“For all of us, deliverance is coming.”

Instead his message is one of stern warning –

“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Bear fruits worthy of repentance…

the axe is lying at the root of the trees;

every tree therefore that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

It is almost as if John the Baptist is broadcasting a warning to the enemy

rather than a hopeful message to those who are oppressed.

But keep in mind what happens in any occupied country.

What is the temptation?

The temptation is to collaborate with the occupying forces,

to turn traitor to one’s native land and work for the enemy.

For the enemy has power, both to kill and to keep alive.

Those who join with those in power will be rewarded,

those who resist may well be put to death.

John the Baptist’s message cannot be a word of comfort until it is a word of warning;

a warning that when liberation comes,

all that belongs to the enemy will be swept away.

So those who have put their trust in the enemy will be swept away as well,

or at least have everything won by fear taken away from them.

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance,”

is a call to join the resistance,

the resistance which works behind the lines until help comes from outside.


It can be a thrilling life,

but it is also a dangerous life.

Those who were members of the French resistance in World War II

might have been involved in hiding British and American fliers

who had been shot down.

Some, like the members of the Protestant church in Le Chambon,

were non-violent resisters who hid Jews from those who would have transported them

to concentration camps.

But all huddled around radios every night,

doing something forbidden,

listening to the news from London on the BBC.

After the news broadcast, the announcer would say,

“Kindly listen to a few personal messages.”

These messages were from leaders in London,

to different units of the French resistance.

Many were simply nonsense phrases.

“The chair is against the wall.”

“It is hot in Suez.”

But the French Resistance was listening for one particular message,

the second line of a poem by Paul Verlaine,

which would mean that the Anglo-American invasion would come within hours,

and that it was time to do their part to disrupt enemy communications

and troop movements.

There were violent revolutionaries in the time of John the Baptist,

and they would often show up in the wilderness

and gather disciples, just like he did.

But John did not call people to violent resistance.

He did not even call people to live a life like his in the desert.

But when people asked him,

“What should we do?”

he told them to take care of their neighbors.

To take less and give more.

To use their material possessions rightly and with compassion.

We as human beings are to love people and use things.

But we get it backwards.

We love things and use people.

And with the spirit of fear occupying our world,

who would enslave us to a life of grasping for things

and keeping back what we are afraid to give away,

we very easily become collaborators.

You see, all of this would be very interesting

if it was a story about people long ago and far away.

But the joy and mystery of the Bible

is that it is not about people long ago and far away.

It is about us and our world,

for we too are under occupation.

Our flag flies over our land,

we are free to choose how to worship, work, and live;

and yet the spirit of fear haunts us,

dogging our steps,

telling us to get more and keep back what we have to give,

tempting us to love things and use people to get them.

As I listened to the radio this week,

I heard that our state universities are still missing a large chunk of money

promised them in the state budget.

Seems that the lawmakers promised them $200 million income

from table games in Pennsylvania casinos and off-track betting parlors.

But there is only one problem.

Table games are illegal in Pennsylvania.

And they still haven’t passed a bill to make them legal.

Frankly, I think they ought to keep them illegal.

It doesn’t make sense to me why broke people ought to gamble their money away

so that middle-class kids can go to college.

To me it seems like loving things and using people.

And yet John the Baptist still cries out in our world,

wherever the Church reads and preaches its Bible,

saying “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.”

The resistance we are called to is not a violent resistance,

as the invasion which liberates us is not a violent invasion.

We are called to resist greed by giving, instinct by temperance, sin by forgiving, fear by loving.

The God who calls us to resistance against the spirit of this world

came among us undercover

as a human being,

as a baby,

innocent, whole, and pure.

And by that coming he reveals the final victory he is preparing.

All who have profited from the spirit of fear must tremble,

for fear will be banished.

But those who have suffered under its yoke should rejoice and sing,

even now, resisting its power to make us afraid.

On the evening of June 5, 1944,

French huddled around their radios to listen to the BBC.

After the evening news,

the announcer said, “Kindly listen to a few personal messages.”

And then those who were in on the secret, who had waited so long for freedom,

heard these words, from a nineteen-century poem by Paul Verlaine:

“Blessent mon coeur d’une langeur monotone.”

The invasion was coming.

It was time to act.

Let us who are called by the name of Christian

act in resistance to the power of fear,

for wherever the Gospel is preached,

John the Baptist still cries out, “One who is more powerful than I is coming.”

Behold, he is coming soon!

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.


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Veterans’ Day Sermon Advent 4 – December 20, 2009

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