Year C Advent 3 Luke 3
The Divine Opportunity
The divine opportunity comes in what is, to our human eyes, the most unlikely garb of all. It's no wonder we don't recognize it; or that, recognizing it, we resist it. This Advent season is an especially good time to experience the divine opportunity. Any time is God's season; but because you and I find certain settings and circumstances especially hospitable to religious experience, Advent and Lent are particularly attractive.
The first Advent preacher, John the Baptizer, offered opportunity in a compelling, almost ferocious way. When you read his words, you don't think he's offering opportunity; I expect that if we had heard him in person, we would have been even more doubtful. William Barclay said that John's message "was not good news; it was news of terror" (The Gospel of Luke, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 28). I understand what Professor Barclay was saying, but I see it differently. It seems to me that good news must sometimes come dressed in rough clothing.
That was surely the nature of John's approach. When we read the brief gospel summaries of his messages, we wonder why people went to so much trouble to hear him. Were they masochists courting abuse, or did they perhaps hope to hear him thunder against the sins of their neighbors? One way or another, the crowds flocked to him. And largely, I think, because they felt, in the integrity of his message, an opportunity which they had sought for a long time. His was a message of judgment; but in the judgment was opportunity. And opportunity was wrapped up in the word repent.
- John’s Message of Judgment and Opportunity.
- The Opportunity of Repentance.
Every Kiss Begins with K
We're still in Advent, but who can resist singing Christmas carols? They are either fun, boisterous and bouncy. Or they are sentimental and sweet.
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Deck The Halls" fit the fun, boisterous and bouncy theme. "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night" fit into the sentimental and sweet category. Although I do admit that as much as I love Christmas music, by about now in the Advent season I start identifying with the 17th century English poet John Donne: "I need thy thunder, O God; thy songs do not suffice me."
But there is one well known carol that defies all categories: "We Three Kings of Orient Are." [If you can get your choir to sing it here, or invite the congregation to sing it, all the better.] It is cast in a minor key. Its message is not very perky. It sounds different from all the other Christmas music. And if you really listen to the words, some of them are downright downers.
The carol tells of journey and mission of the "magi." We will celebrate in liturgy their star-led journey in January, but since Christmas giving traces its origins to their gifts, and this sermon is about gift-giving, we need to say a few things this third Sunday in Advent about those better known as "wise men" or the "three kings." The song was composed in 1857 by the Rev. John Henry Hopkins for the Christmas pageant that year at General Theological Seminary in New York City. But why is it so different, in tone, in timbre, in theme?
Perhaps it is because those “kings” themselves were so different from the rest of the Christmas crowd that this carol strikes such an unusual chord...