Sunday Thoughts for December 16, 2018

Wednesday after Advent 2
December 12, 2018

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday (December 16) is the Third Sunday of Advent. This is the Sunday churches traditionally light the pink candle on their Advent Wreath. The old Latin name for the Sunday is Gaudete. Gaudete means “rejoice” and is the first word in the Introit for the Day. The old Latin names for the Sundays were typically taken from the first word or two of the old Introits for each day. In a “regular” Introit, the antiphon is taken from the actual Psalm being used and is intended to capture a key thought of the Psalm. In an “irregular” Introit the antiphon is taken from some other portion of the Bible or even a liturgical verse. The Introit for Advent 3 is irregular and the antiphon is Philippians 4:4, which begins with the word “rejoice.”

We will be using the first setting of the Divine Service for our liturgy. We will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The appointed readings for Sunday are Zephaniah 3:14–20, Philippians 4:4–7, and Luke 7:18–35. The sermon will be titled “Rejoice!” The text will be Luke 7:23. Our opening hymn will be “Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come” (LSB 350). Our sermon hymn will be “When All the World Was Cursed” (LSB 346). Our closing hymn will be “Go, My Children, with My Blessing” (LSB 922). Our distribution Hymns will be “I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table” (LSB 618), “Thy Body, Given for Me, O Savior” (LSB 319), and “Hail, O Source of Every Blessing” (LSB 409).

This first two distribution hymns are actually one hymn. Due to the length of the hymn it has been divided into two hymns in our current hymnal. I might also add, all of the original verses are not included.

Below are the lessons for Sunday along with some initial thoughts of mine.

Zephaniah 3:14–20
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
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.

Initial Thoughts: Zephaniah is one of the so-called “minor” prophets. “Minor” does not mean unimportant, but short. All twelve of the Minor Prophets could fit on one scroll, which is how they came to be grouped together. Zephaniah’s book is only three chapters long. The first two chapters are pretty much Law while the third chapter is pretty much Gospel. Our reading comes from the third chapter. Zephaniah lived and worked during the reign of King Josiah, making him a contemporary of Jeremiah, Nahum and perhaps Habakkuk. The rejoicing in the reading is two-fold. First is the rejoicing of the people of God for the deliverance God achieves for them. Ultimately this is found in the deliverance God achieves for us through Jesus and put on full display at the Second Coming of Jesus. All deliverances God accomplishes for his people in time point us to this ultimate deliverance. The second source of rejoicing might be a bit surprising. In verse 17 we are told that God rejoices over his people. How cool is that. We are a reason God rejoices. We know that God loves us but how often do we think God rejoices that we are present to receive his love. But it makes sense. What good is being loving if there is no object of that love? We are the objects of God’s love and he rejoices in that that he has someone to love.

Philippians 4:4–7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Initial Thoughts: There is so much joy in this reading from Paul that it comes as a surprise that he is in prison when he writes it. He is in prison and he tells us not to be anxious about anything. This comfort and joy comes from Paul’s trust in Jesus. Here is a key to Christian contentment and joy, trust in the Lord. In the world we are encouraged to trust in all sorts of things, the government, our stock portfolio, our family and friends, our talents, ourselves, this or that product, education, and on and on. All these things, including ourselves, have a very real chance of letting us down big time. I just saw in the newspaper today an article about the “boomer” generation being the loneliest generation America has ever produced. Many sit at home alone, cut off from family, neighbors, church, work, and watch reruns; all the things that they counted on, gone. Christ does not leave us alone. Christ always gives us reason to rejoice.

Luke 7:18–35
18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

28I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29(When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

Initial Thoughts: Many are troubled by the depiction of John the Baptist in this reading. Therefore they often read the story something like this: John really was not having any crisis of faith. He was concerned for his disciples, knowing that he, himself, would soon be dead and also wanting to make sure his disciples became followers of Jesus. So John sent these two on a fact-finding mission hoping they would transfer their loyalty to Jesus. While such a view is possible, it isn’t the more natural reading of the text. The more natural view is that John is having a crisis of faith. He sends his disciples to Jesus hoping to get answers. Answers he gets. Jesus is the one they had been waiting for. John is strengthened in his faith to face his final trial. Looking at it this way, we have a wonderful story for us. First, no matter how “mighty” a saint you may be, you are not immune from the weaknesses of the flesh. Anyone, even a John the Baptist, can struggle. Just think of the disciples on the night Jesus was arrested. Then consider how Jesus responds to John. Our Lord does not condemn John but builds up his faith. When we turn to Jesus in our dark days, our Lord will not turn away from us. Sure, John was still in prison. Sure, John would be beheaded. But God never abandoned him. John was never alone. And when John was martyred, he was received into heaven’s rejoicing company.

Well, I hope this gives you something to think about as you prepare for our time together this coming Sunday.

Advent blessings,