What Then Should We Do?

blue candleAdvent 3B – What Then Should We Do?

December 15-16, 2012

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

He added, “To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”[i]

Along with most pastors in the United States, I imagine, I threw out my original sermon plans on Friday.

This Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday – Latin for the word, “joy.”

Joy was going to be our theme.

We were lighting the “Joy” candle on our Advent wreath.

We were singing “Joy to the World.”

We were hearing Zephaniah’s words “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”

We were reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say rejoice!”

But then around noontime Friday I heard the report of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I didn’t really feel like talking about joy this weekend.

I threw out my original sermon plans.

….But then, today, I brought them back again….

It is Gaudete Sunday..

When else should we speak of joy – real joy –  than now?

When else do the words ‘rejoice always’ mean something?

When else can we say “Rejoice in the Lord” and know that sometimes the only way we can possibly rejoice is in the Lord.

There are those who especially this time of year would like us to rejoice in other ways.

When I’ve been out and about these last couple of weeks, there are signs proclaiming ‘joy’ everywhere it seems.

My cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee cup says it will bring “Joy”

Not to be outdone, Starbucks claims its coffee will “Rekindle Joy”

Another restaurant says that its holiday treats will give the warmth and ‘joy of the season.’

But for those families in Newtown, CT,

joy will never come in the form of a piece of pie and a cup of coffee.

Joy won’t come in the form of beautifully wrapped packages under the tree either.

In these days of tragedy, we are taken back to the basics of faith.

Joy won’t come – and dare I say joy can’t come in these days except in the Lord – in God.

Paul understood that.

Paul didn’t write these words at a time when things were going really well for him.

He didn’t write these words from a place we would think particularly joyful.

He wrote these words from a place of extreme darkness.

He was in jail.

He fully expected to die there.

And yet still this is what he said: “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say rejoice.”

Zephaniah understood.

Zephaniah wrote his words “Rejoice and exult oh daughter of Jerusalem”

in a time when the Israelites had been defeated and taken into exile.

Their homeland was gone and their temple destroyed.[ii]

Joy comes in the knowing and trusting and believing and hoping,

that God’s love shines brightest in the darkness.

Joy comes in the singing and praying and preaching and proclaiming,

that God’s own son was killed by violence and yet death, no matter how horrible, is never the last word – there is always resurrection.

Joy comes in the waiting and watching and wishing and wanting,

that God’s coming to earth as a baby may be a powerful witness of love for all who grieve.

So today we will sing “Joy to the World.”

…But that is not all we will do….

There is another Scripture text today.

And in that gospel reading from Luke, there is a question.

It’s asked three times.

Once by the crowd, once by a soldier, and once by a tax collector.

The question they all ask John the Baptizer is this:  “What then should we do?”

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself these last couple of days…

What then should we do?

O Lord…what then should we do?

What should we do?

What should we do to help families grieving over extraordinary loss?

What should we do to help children who are frightened?

What should we do about our own sadness and anger?

What should we do?

Like most of us here, my first response has been prayer…

Prayer for the families of the victims.

Prayer for the family of the perpetrator.

Prayer for the classmates and colleagues.

Prayer for the school administrators and city officials.

Prayer for the first responders and emergency personnel.

Prayer for the police officers and detectives.

But the spirit of John the Baptizer does not stop with prayer.

When the crowd asks, “What should we do?” he gives them instructions.

And I believe that he actually expects them to do as he suggests!

When the crowd asks, “What should we do?”

He says,

“If you have two coats – give one away.”

When the tax collectors who make profit through extortion, ask, “What should we do?” he says,

“Be honest.  Take only what is owed you.”

When the mercenary soldiers who make money by threatening others, ask, “What should we do?” he says,

“Stop it!”

What would John the Baptist tell us baptized believers?

What would he tell us who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit and fire?

What then should we do?

I think John the Baptist would say…do something!

We do need time for grief.

We do need time to listen and pray with God.

And then there is time to heed the words of John the Baptist and do something about it.

Maybe we are being called by John the Baptist to do something

so that even in these tough economic times,  those who are mentally ill are cared for.

Maybe we are being called by John the Baptist to do something

to stem the tide of violence caused by firearms.

What then should we do?

Mr. Rogers had a word of grace for  children faced with disaster.

He said, “Look for the helpers.”

John the Baptist has a word of grace for the rest of us adults confronting disaster.

He says to us, “Be the helper”  –  “Be the helper” that our children need.

Amen.

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