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Saturday, 19 December 2009

Third Sunday in Advent - Moving beyond fear and resisting greed

Luke's account of the preaching of John the Baptist suggests that John would not have got many repeat invitations to churches in Australia.

3:7 John 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?
3:8 Bear 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.
3:9 Even 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."
3:10 And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?"
3:11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."
3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"
3:13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."
3:14 Soldiers 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."
3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.

Walter Brueggeman links this passage with the other readings for this third Sunday in Advent with their contrasting focus on rejoicing and getting beyond fear in his comments on the readings:

Advent is rooted in Israel’s deep hope, here voiced by Zephaniah. In time to come, God will be allied with the lame, and the outcasts will be gathered home to well-being. The prophet anticipates a time to come that will be completely contrasted to the present, wherein the disabled are rejected and the outcasts are forever displaced persons, and oppression is the normal order of the day—so routine we do not notice.

The folk who heard John the Baptizer had a tough decision to make. They could easily collude with the dominant system of exploitation that features Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas, and Caiaphus (Luke 3:1-2). The narrative names the entire power structure of the military-industrial-financial-ecclesial system of exploitation that was impressive and all-powerful. The news from John, then and now, is that we do not need to collude, need not count on pedigree or entitlements. What counts is deliberate, concrete, countercultural action. John offers three examples of such actions that are against collusion; they concern coats, taxation, and extortion. Such actions refuse the world of violent greed defined by subprime loans, foreclosures, and “market reform.”

Paul, echoing the “do not fear” of Zephaniah, knows that those driven by anxiety will collude. Those without fear and worry are free for the alternative (Philippians 4:6). Imagine—in Christmas “the Lord is near.” The Christ-child is the God-given antidote to colluding anxiety.

Sojonet Sermon preparation

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