Rejoice in the Lord always

Third Sunday in Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9: Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:-4-7; Luke 3:7-18

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart.” What a great way to start listening to the readings! We move on to Paul, telling us to “Rejoice in the Lord always”. We are told that if, “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” offer our requests to God, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”. This is a promise.

But don’t get too comfortable: we move from Paul’s promise to John’s preaching to the crowds. “You brood of vipers!” I can’t say that this is the most welcoming message I can imagine. It doesn’t invite you to feel good about yourself. And yet John is surrounded by crowds, evidently people who understand their need for a baptism of repentance, to change their minds, and their lives. And that change is not necessarily big: if you have two coats, give one away; if you have extra food, share. You don’t need to leave your job, even if you are a soldier or tax collector, just don’t take advantage of your position to exploit or extort others.

We have to repent, to change our minds and lives, to get to where we can, with Paul, rejoice in the Lord always. What John and Paul leave out is the way that this is something I at least need to do over and over. There’s a reason I am relieved that we say the confession every week. I get distracted by the world, and need to shift my focus back to Jesus. When I do, I can once again rejoice in the Lord, and sing with all my heart.

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