Luke 3: 7-18
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
December 13, 2015
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about expectations.
On Friday this past week, I sat up in the office here with my computer on the desk, my candles lit, books all around me working on my sermon for the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy. As I sat there waiting for the Holy Spirit to move me, I looked over at my Dunkin Donuts’ Iced Coffee and saw the word Joy written on it circled in a wreath. I sat there thinking: “Joy, what does Dunkin Donuts mean by having this written on their cup? Does my iced coffee bring me Joy? Well no, I do enjoy the caffeine I feel running through my veins giving me a boost as I write. I enjoy the cold coffee flavor as it hits my taste buds. But Joy, no it does not give me Joy, and thank you God for the prompt to get me thinking!”
So then what is this elusive Joy? Where do we find Joy during the coming of Christ, during this Advent season? What is Joy? Can you explain it?
C.S. Lewis wrote a book about how he passed from atheism to Christianity, entitled Surprised by Joy. In this book he remarks that Joy “jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights. It shocks one awake when the other puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of Joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure. I think you really quite agree with me.”
Do you agree with him? He goes on to say Joy is “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again…I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”
Joy is never in our power.
Interesting, but I tend to think we can make room in ourselves for Joy.
Let us turn to our scripture passage for today. Once again we are with John the Baptist. John is preparing people for Christ’s coming. During this time Jesus has already been born since he is only a few months younger than John, but his public ministry has yet to start. John is not preparing the people for Jesus’ birth, just as we are anticipating Christmas; rather, he is preparing them for Jesus’ ministry.
John is an amazing preacher and prophet -- people are coming from all over to be baptized by him. How influential a preacher he must have been to have people lining up to be baptized by him. After all, he was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6). In other words, he was not a normal acting or looking guy and as we discussed last week he is preaching a message of repentance, of turning. Turning in attitude and direction, turning in making changes in our lives and in the lives of others.
The message of repentance is again what we hear from him as he addresses three distinct audiences: the crowd, the tax collectors and the soldiers. All of these people are looking to John and we are told in verse 15 are filled with expectation. They are hopeful that he is the messiah, yet John reiterates that he is not the Messiah by saying “I baptize you with water; but the one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (v16).
These followers are filled with great expectation and great wanting of the return of a Messiah.
Expectations can get the best of us. How often do we play out in our minds an event just to have it not live up to our expectations? I have seen this with weddings I have performed and attended. The brides and grooms plan all the details, spend hours upon hours making sure everything is just perfect only to be disappointed on the day when something inevitably goes wrong. Expectations.
The people we meet in our scripture believe they are on the right journey. They have expectations that the Messiah will come as a king and save them because they are Abraham’s descendants. But that is not where God shows up. God comes through the wilderness man John, who calls the people “to abandon all devices used to maintain [their] illusion of innocence” (Year C, 18). John flips their expectations. He calls the crowd to give their second coat, which can also be translated to mean tunic. Their tunics was their only layer of clothing and to give away their extra would have been a true hardship.
John also calls the tax collectors to “collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Now what does that mean? Tax collectors back then were wealthy people who prepaid the government the taxes for the entire town. They then went and collected taxes from the town’s people. But of course it was not simply the amount the tax collector had paid to the government but more, so that he could make a profit and make a living. So as you can imagine some tax collectors took much, much more than what was fair or right and thus they gained a negative or villain persona. After John addresses the tax collectors, he then turns to the soldiers and answers their question, “What should we do?” with “do not extort money from anyone by threats of false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (v14).
John’s answer to the question “What should we do?” is radical and not what the crowd, tax collectors or soldiers expected. But he tells them what they must do in order to be baptized.
I tie this directly to Joy. John is calling the people to come clean, to come empty and pure of heart to receive God’s gift. We come to Christmas with great expectations and when we come to a place with expectations our expectations are rarely meet. Just like the people before John the Baptist. They expected their ancestry to be their golden ticket but John tells them otherwise. When we have our own expectations we are trying to guide the journey instead of opening our hearts to be guided by God.
It is only when we come open, clear, clean hearted that Joy can enter in. If you chase Joy, if you create situations where you hope Joy will occur you are missing the point and will miss out on Joy.
C.S. Lewis lost his mother as a young boy yet found Joy throughout his life. Maybe you heard of Safyre Terry this week, the 8 year old girl who also lost her mother, father, and siblings in a 2013 fire. Not only did she lose her entire family she was also severely disfigured. This young girl now lives with her aunt and this year for Christmas all she asked for was Christmas cards from around the world. Well her aunt posted a picture of the little girl next to a Christmas card tree on Facebook with the hope they would receive enough cards to fill the tree. Little did they know Safyre would start receiving cards by the truckload, literally. Her aunt said “This year’s been magical, amazing”. So far more than 18,000 cards and letters and packages have been delivered in a two-ton truck. The postmaster says the mail will likely need to be delivered in a tractor-trailer next week. How awesome!
Safyre has without a doubt experienced some great darkness in her young life. She and her aunt set out not expecting to be showered with truckloads of love and Joy but that is exactly what has happened.
Joy is one way God comes into our lives. And just like the people of Israel who were looking for and expecting a Messiah, for a new king to come and rescue them and once again create a great empire, God came in the form of an innocent baby, in the lowly place of a manger with no fanfare, not even to a legitimate married couple. God brought Joy to the world in a way that was way outside of our expectations.
God comes in an innocent baby, in cards from strangers and in unexpected places. It is in these unexpected places where we find the greatest Joy.
In these last two weeks leading up to Christmas, I invite you to step back and find a way to be quite and at peace. Open your heart, let expectations of the holidays go and make room for Joy. You might be surprised that the sister or uncle who you are anxious about seeing because you expect them to either talk too much, drink too much or just annoy the dickens out of you, might be your source of Joy this season.
As C.S. Lewis stated about Joy, “that anyone who has experience it will want it again.” I hope this season you experience Joy.
So what should we do? Wait and see, without any expectations. May you enter these next weeks with no expectations but with deep knowing that God is coming.