Sunday Reflection: third in Advent

12th December 2021

The Collect 

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.

And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

Canticle: Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defence, *
and he will be my Saviour.

Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.

And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.

Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptised by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 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. 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.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptised, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 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.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Reflection 

The collect calls out to God, “Stir up your power!” This is not about Christmas puddings. It has a feeling of a whirl wind, a tornado, that will rip through us. A feeling of an electrical force that will spin things into motion. A centrifuge that will separate pure from dross. In the gospel John summons up the same prospect: Now is the time to act! Something is coming for which you have not yet prepared! That which is fruitless, that which shows no penitence or regret, will be cut away and destroyed. Radically alter your lives now before it is too late! For the messiah is coming with wind and fire and will stir up and sift you, shaking out all that is chaff – separating it from what is good. 

Think how that can transform not just us, but the whole world! At the same time, does this sound rather too scary? Do we want to be stripped of our chaff? Do we want to radically change the way we live? Do we feel that there is anything in us worthy enough to remain?

The words from Zephaniah sound equally radical but in a different way for Zephaniah tells us that God will rejoice over us! God’s love for us must be incredibly huge and incredibly forgiving. Looking at the state of the world, the ways in which we have damaged it, the ways in which we harm our selves and one another through our failure to love, through our greed and selfishness, is it credible that God will rejoice over us? Yes says Zephaniah, God will rejoice over us and will renew us with love, restore

Ing what has been  lost, healing what has been damaged and making us a praiseworthy part of creation. 

Where John suggests practical actions people can take – being generous with what we have, not being greedy, not abusing any power or authority we have – the writer of Philippians commends attitudes: being gentle, joyful and prayerful. Let’s be guided by both these figures and let the transformative power of God work in ourselves and the world we inhabit. 

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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