The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
December 16, 2018 - Third Sunday of Advent C
This Gospel is the continuation from last week, where John called people to repent and prepare for Jesus to come amongst them. We might hear it as a call to prepare for Christ’s return to earth. This week, we hear John explain more about what repentance means. He says that repentance - turning back toward God - means we are to share with each other from our abundance, and to avoid exploiting each other. Such sharing and fairness ensures not only that each of us will have what we need to survive, but in doing so, that we witness to each other of God’s love. In sharing what we have with each other, we are sharing God’s love.
But John’s message doesn’t sound like one of love. It sounds like a warning about judgment – a word that none of us likes to think about. John’s message sounds like one of fear – fear of God. It sounds like one of despair. Hold this up against Zephaniah telling Jerusalem that “the Lord has taken away judgements against (her).” And also, we know something that John the Baptist didn’t know; we know about a compassionate God, a God who’s judgment includes the sending of his Son to live among us, as one of us. God’s judgment includes the gift of a child, one that will sleep out in the cold in a manger; one that will die on a cross for us. God’s judgment includes walking in our shoes, and understanding first-hand the vulnerability, the struggles, the temptations of living in this human flesh.
I heard someone say recently that we are not punished for our sins; we are punished by our sins. In other words, when we have turned away from God and let things get in the way of that relationship – maybe with drugs or alcohol, maybe with grief or anger, maybe in some other way – when we have let something come between us and God, it eats us up inside, because as human beings we long to be close with God. We need God! I think that all of this is part of God’s judgment, and that if there is one final day when we come face to face with our maker and account for our lives, that all of this will become clear to us, and we’ll know exactly where we made our mistakes. In that final moment of judgment, when the totality of our remorse comes rushing forth, God will say, “That is punishment enough. Let us now be together in paradise.”
In the meantime, John calls us to bear fruit – “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Our theme for this season is Tikkun Olam. It’s a Jewish Concept that means “to repair the world,” to restore it to its original state of holiness. Think about the Garden of Eden, when all creatures lived in harmony and we shared evening walks with God. It aims to restore what Verna Dozier called “The Dream of God” by taking ownership of our world, responsibility for society and its future, through social policy and social justice, philanthropy, volunteerism, and acts of kindness.
We are called to act “as if”, to live as if we know we are forgiven children of God. And so in acting “as if” – in sharing what we have with others, in treating each other well, in treating ourselves in the way God would treat us, and in repairing the world – maybe in acting that way, we will actually become that way, and we will be prepared to meet God face to face. Amen.