SCRIPTURE: ISAIAH 12: 2-6; LUKE 3:7-18
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, and it’s the “Joy” Sunday of the season.
We even see this focus of joy represented in the lighter, rose colored candle on the
Advent wreath, as opposed to the traditional darker purple candles for the other Sundays.
So, if this is “Joy” Sunday why does the gospel message for today begin with
John the Baptizer calling a bunch of people a ”brood of vipers?” Not only that but this
passage ends by saying, “With many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news
to the people.” What is the good news in being called a brood of vipers?
When we think of good news we think of “No cancer,” or “The stock market is
up,” or “You got a pay raise,” or “We have a healthy baby!” A single mother stated what
good news is for her. “Good news is when I get home from work and both kids are
there. They haven’t been hit by a car, or kidnapped. I hug them each night, and thank
God we have made it through another day.” A retired businessman once said, “Good
news is when my kids call me, and the bank doesn’t.” Another person said, “Good news
is it stormed this week and the roof didn’t leak, at least not over my bed.”
In both Isaiah’s and John the Baptizer’s time the people were hungry for good
news, just like we are today. Isaiah wrote during the time when the Northern Kingdom
had been defeated by the Assyrian Empire and the South lived uneasily in its shadow,
waiting for the other shoe of oppression to drop on them.
In John’s time the iron-clad rule of Rome smothered the life of the Hebrew
people and dominated their every moment. In both of these times the popular idea was
a hope that God would act in some super-natural way to literally over-throw the
oppressors and miraculously establish a wonderful and prosperous time of peace.
However, both Isaiah and John pointedly tell the people they have to change their ways
before any peace will come.
Isaiah spends the first eleven chapters of his book pronouncing judgement on
Judah and Jerusalem for the unjust and corrupt ways they live. His complaint is their
life-style does not reflect God’s righteousness and justice. Near the end of the prophecy
he proclaims that God will save them in a new age of justice and peace under the
leadership of a shoot from the stump of Jesse. God will raise-up a good and righteous
leader from the family of David.
Our passage today is a song of thanksgiving for this anticipated act on God’s
part. It is possible that Isaiah is so full of faith that immediately after writing of God’s
wonderful acts, he just falls into song. There is an anthem that has a phrase, “Surely it
is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.” If we could only understand
more deeply Isaiah’s words as he writes of God’s liberating actions!
However, what is probably the case is that this song was added at a later time
by the worshiping community as they read Isaiah’s prophecy in worship. What is
significant here, is that this is a song not about what God has already done, but is future
oriented, toward what they anticipate what God will do. Because their faith is strong and
assures them of this coming time of justice and righteousness, the present day is a day of joy.
Further, they sing for all the earth because God’s acts of love and justice will
flow outward and affect all peoples. While even still in oppressive conditions, Isaiah’s
audience knows joy, they know good news, and they trust and are not afraid. Our
oppressive conditions may be different, but our response can and should be the same.
But what about those snakes, that brood of vipers, where is the joy and good
news there? Luke gives us the most complete account of the Baptizer and his ministry.
First, let it be said that it is clear John never took the Dale Carnegie course on how to
win friends and influence people. Though Luke says John was addressing the crowds
these words are most likely addressed to the malicious evildoers among all those who
These characters were anxious to be baptized to escape judgement, so he likens
them to snakes slithering in flight to escape a fire. They are going through the motions
of the act to get something without a change of heart or actions. To all he says you
must bear fruit worthy of repentance, that is you must change your hurtful, harmful
ways. Neither a ritual, nor heritage, is a substitute for repentance and ethical behavior.
Modern Christianity has pretty much moved away from the notion of Advent
being a time of somber reflection, and instead focuses on the concept of watching and
waiting. The scripture reading from Zephaniah that was used as we lit the third candle,
and the Isaiah passage sing out for joy. The prophets tell people to “Sing aloud…to
shout and rejoice, because the Lord your God is in your midst…” The Apostle Paul
wraps it all up by encouraging people to “Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I will say rejoice!”
How many of you took piano lessons as a kid (or as an adult)? Andrea has given
me one piano lesson – how to find middle “C”. I can now play a complete piano
concerto using middle “C”. If you took piano lessons, do you remember that the most
hated accessory to your lesson was “the metronome”? The steady tick-tock, tick-tock of
the mechanical rhythm keeper was like an audible guillotine chopping at your struggling
fingers in their attempts at dexterity. The metronome was tough. But if you listened to it
you became a better musician. With the right rhythm the music came through purer and
There was an experiment done a few years ago that was described as being a
metronome experiment in synchronicity. The experiment was conducted by using thirty-
two metronomes, all started at different times. The metronomes clicking away at
completely independent, individual rhythms, soon came in sync with the originally
Our faith community, and our individual selves are like those thirty-two
individual, independent, rhythms of metronomes. We all have our individual concerns.
We all have our individual priorities. We all have our individual emergencies. But as this
Third Sunday of Advent calls us to focus and fuse ourselves in the joy of what is to
come, then we can realize that we share a common bond, a common faith, a common
commitment. Whatever our number is here this morning we need to get in synch during
this advent Season as to what God wants us to do.
If you were to watch the YouTube video of the metronomes you begin to notice
that the individual meters each dance slowly begin to regulate themselves. They are
beginning to be “in synch” with each other. This isn’t just some crazy fluke. If you have
a sharp eye you will notice something that all those metronomes shared in common: a
platform. All of those metronomes which started out at all different rhythms are sitting
on one common platform. That platform is gently, constantly oscillating, suggesting a
new rhythm to all the individual units that rest upon it. For us to be in sync with God we
have to be moving towards God’s promises.
To condense what John’s message was to the people is that if we live like
everything depends on how much we have and possess, then there is not much room in
trusting in God. John calls us to turn from that kind of life, trust we are forgiven and not
be afraid. God comes to us in love in Jesus, seeking a new and healthy relationship with
us. It is in knowing that forgiving love is the deep character of God that enables us to
trust and not be afraid.
The joy and good news of trusting in God and not being afraid is captured in the
hymn, “Awake, Awake, and Greet the New morn.’ The child of our longing Come as a
baby weak and poor, to bring all hearts together…the thunder of his anthems roll to
shatter all hatred and blindness, …In darkest night his coming shall be, when all the
world is despairing as morning light so quiet and free, so warm and gentle and caring.
He is the light that sines in our darkness, and we can trust and not be afraid.
In this season we celebrate that “Hope is Alive” because of the very nature
of God, who comes to us in love in Jesus.
A New York law firm was engaged in settling an estate when they discovered
that the estate owned a piece of property in Louisiana. They wrote a New Orleans
attorney and asked him to do a title check on the property and give them a title opinion.
In due course they received the title opinion which traced title of the property back to 1803.
They wrote the New Orleans attorney and asked if he could trace back further. A
few days later they received the following letter from the New Orleans attorney:
With reference to your request that the title be traced back beyond 1803. I
submit the following information: In the year 1803 the Louisiana Territory was acquired
by the United States of America by purchase from the Republic of France; which in turn
had acquired title from the Spanish Crown by conquest; who in turn acquired title by the
discovery of a Genoese sailor by the name of Christopher Columbus who sailed under
the authority of Queen Isabella, who obtained sanction of the Pope for the voyage; who
obtained his authority as the Vicar of Jesus Christ who was the Son and Heir of Almighty
God, who made Louisiana.
Our joy is because of the nature of God, who made all there is, and who has
come to love us in Jesus. We can trust and not be afraid!
Thanks be to God.