Scripture Readings for December 16, 2018
This time of year, many of us have family trips planned or other commitments that might keep us from gathering for worship. Since I’m almost always at the Lake Como Community of Hope church in Lake Como, FL, I asked what dates others would be available in December to lead or read, and I’d do a Bible Talk on whatever Sunday was left. Well, guess what! The first reading for this very Sunday is the same Scripture I have posted beside my desk! So I’m delighted to have an opportunity to share with you the Zephaniah 3 reading from the Contemporary English Version that’s beside me every day, reminding me how God rejoices over us! Amazing!
Here's that wonderful Song of Celebration in Zephaniah 3: 14-17 as the Contemporary English Version translates.
Everyone, celebrate and shout
with all your heart!
Your punishment is over.
The Lord has forced your enemies
to turn and retreat.
Your Lord is King of Israel
and stands at your side;
you don’t have to worry any more.
The time is coming,
when it will be said to you:
“Don’t be discouraged
or grow weak from fear!
The Lord your God
wins victory after victory
and is always with you
He celebrates and sing
because of you,
and He will refresh your life
with His love.”
Wow! The Almighty God – The Creator of Heaven and Earth – celebrates because of you! God sings of you!
Here's another translation of those verses from the Tree of Life Version of the Bible:
Adonai your God is in your midst—
a mighty Savior!
He will delight over you with joy.
He will quiet you with His love.
He will dance for joy over you with singing.
So before we even think about reasons to rejoice in the Lord, scriptures tell us, “Rejoice! For God rejoices over you!”
In our second reading, we hear Isaiah's declaration, “Surely God is my salvation.” That thought alone is cause for rejoicing! But the Prophet takes it further. Isaiah lets us know he has made up his mind to trust God. He’s made a commitment, not to let himself give in to fear because his heart, mind, spirit, and experiences tell him that the Lord God is his strength. He’s so certain of this, that he urges us to “Shout aloud and sing for joy because the Holy One of Israel is in our midst.”
As you know, Isaiah and many other Old Testament prophets gave us this assurance numerous centuries before the birth of Jesus. But with that Christmas birth soon completing this year’s ADVENTure of ADVENT and beginning a new liturgical church year, we’re reminded that Jesus – Emmanuel – is The Holy One in our midst, coming first to us as the Holy Infant Son of God and becoming the Mighty Healer, Redeemer Son of God, and Friend. Now that’s cause for rejoicing!
Using this same theme, the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Philippians in today’s Scripture readings, also encourages us. As the fourth chapter of that letter says:
“Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice! Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.”
Those words came from Philippians 4:4-7 as translated in The Voice version of the Bible, but here's another contemporary version of the same verses, as pastor and Bible scholar Eugene Peterson translated in The Message:
“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
As these Scripture readings clearly tell us, God rejoices over us, and we’re to rejoice – or take joy – in Him. But how?
To be honest, we can’t! We cannot possibly believe and accept the truth of God’s joy in us, nor can we honestly have joy in Him IF there’s anything “off” between us.
John the Baptist knew this. In the Gospel reading from Luke 3, we hear John warning us! He even called his listeners a “brood of vipers” – or snakes.
As you recall, a snake turned the ears of Eve and Adam away from what God had said, toward their own self-pleasures and indulgences. So, we don’t want to be snakes! We don’t want our church fellowship to be infested with vipers!
John wasn’t trying to be mean. His sole job in life was to prepare the way for the first coming of the Lord Jesus – The Holy One of God and Son of Mary who came to us that first Christmas as a human being, newborn as we all were, but without sin.
Holiness cannot abide sin. And holiness cannot be pals or buddies with sinners. God knew this. And so He sent John the Baptist to help people clean up their acts. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John came to prepare the way for Christ and to prepare us for The Way.
The Revised Common Lectionary gave us that reading today because we’re in the middle of Advent – the time that begins the new church year by preparing us to receive Christ more fully at Christmas. So, like the people who hung out, listening to John, we, too, can ask, “What am I to do?”
Notice how John gives a different response to each group who asks that question. As Luke records it, John told the entire crowd, “If you have two coats, share one with someone who has no coat, and share your food with the hungry.”
Then tax collectors, who had a reputation for gouging people and charging them more than the government required them to pay, asked John, “What should we do?” And John told them,” Collect only what’s mandatory.” Then soldiers – non-Jewish men in the Roman army – asked, “What should we do?” And John told them, “Don’t threaten people. Don’t falsely accuse anyone. Don’t try to extort money from anyone, but do be satisfied with your wages.”
Do you see how each group, each person, was told to do – or stop doing – something unique to them, to their jobs, and to their attitudes about other people? The same is true for us. So, if we ask, “What should we do?” to prepare our hearts, minds, and attitudes for the coming of Christ, what would John the Baptist say to us, to me, to you?
Would he chastise us about holding onto old wounds, grudges, anger, resentments, self-pity, self-loathing, worry, or fears?
Would he tell us to be more honest with each other and with God and ourselves?
Would he tell us to treat other people the way we want to be treated? Or, better, would he tell us to treat other people the way Jesus would treat them?
Regardless of what John the Baptist might say to us – or what we need to give up or confess to the Lord – the good news of the Gospel does not end with our preparing the way for the Lord. John goes on to tell the people – and to tell us – that the Holy One will baptize those who welcome the Lord in their lives with the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to the life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is available to all Christians today! What a source of joy and blessed reason for rejoicing!
In case you’re not sure you have received this gift, let’s pray for God’s forgiveness, healing touch, and power right now:
Oh, Holy One, we thank You and praise You for rejoicing in us! Help us to rejoice in You more and more each day. Help us to let go of anything that’s hindering us from a closer relationship with you – as individuals and as the Body of Christ. Open us up, Lord, to the joy of Your presence. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit as we celebrate Your love in Jesus’ Name.
May God bless your Advent adventure and Christmas with joy and re-joy throughout the coming year.