Tis What Season?
I don't know about you but the only time I use the contraction tis is this time of year, but just what season tis it? Toyota says tis the season for buying cars; AT&T says tis the season for the new iPhone 10s.
Nope, tis the season for doing. Do shopping, do decorating, do baking, do traveling, do visiting, and more. Everyone agrees on that, don't they? Who doesn't describe this time of year in terms of what they have to do, have done, or will do? What will you do this Christmas? What did you do for Christmas? The standard story arc of Christmas movies is that the main characters have to do something or Christmas will be ruined.
Tis the season for doing even in churches, at least for churches who observe Advent in the traditional way as a season of repentance rather than one of hope. This is not a confessional non-confessional Lutheran difference because there is no "Thus says the Lord: observe Advent as a season of penitence." There isn't even a divine command to have Advent at all. That being said most churches if they use paraments have the blue of hope rather than the purple of penitence. It's amazing to me how rapidly this change happened, but then again who wouldn't rather do hope than do repentance?
And there is a lot to be done: do fruit in keeping with repentance thunders John the Baptizer. Do not think you can be children of God based on your parents being Christians? "You must do fruits worthy of the repentance" of a child of God," John preaches. And what does that mean? Do works of charity for those in need. Do honest business dealings. Do noble public service. Tis the season for doing. Do, do, do till you find you can never get it all done. I don't know about you, but my most frequent nightmare is not being chased or falling. It's having done something terrible or having failed to do something on time. That tells me that while I think the problem is all the doing required of me on the outside, the real problem is me. Paul Revere and the Raiders were right in 1966: "no matter what you do, you'll never run away from you." And so Advent turns into "The Nightmare Before Christmas". An ax is drawn back aimed at the trunks of my legs; and another 60's song plays: "FireYou're gonna burn" as I'm cast into unquenchable fire. If I fail to do, ax and fire will do what they do.
Tis the season for being done. John the Baptizer doesn't just preach, "Do, do, do," he preaches, "Done." He says one more powerful than him, or you, or even Santa comes. Netflix's "Christmas Chronicles" takes the gloves off. The guy in the red suit claims omniscience, omnipotence, and makes a plausible case for omnipresence. Don't get me wrong; it's a typical secular Christmas story, delightful in many ways. And it has the typical "doing requirement" to make Christmas happen, but in the end it's St. Nick who is strong enough to get er done. But St. Nick tis not the answer to my nightmares of the ax heading for my legs or the fire burning. Jesus is.
Jesus is the One powerful enough to stamp "Done!" on all your to-do lists. He really did it all. A staple of children's books is a big mess that needs to be cleaned up before the parents gets home. In The Cat in the Hat the house is wrecked by Thing One and Thing Two, but the Cat has a machine miraculously able to do everything just before mom gets home. Scrooge wakes, and this time the miracle is in his heart, to do the right thing for Christmas. Rudolph does what no one else can. All these stories know that something needs doing that is beyond ordinary human ability. All my nightmares point to something that must be done by me that is impossible for me. All these foreshadow that one more powerful than I or you must do what we can't.
Jesus does it all. He descends into the human womb to pick up our flesh and blood, and from then on it's Him for me and you. From then on, He does everything humans are required to do. He does infancy, childhood, tween, teen, and adult to perfection. See the wreck that is your life because of your sins; see how you've stained your body and soul with your lusts, your worries, your fears, your self-centeredness, your unbelief. You can't do the cleaning, the washing, the wiping, the ordering before the judge walks through that door. But Jesus can and does: He picks up, cleans, wipes, and washes, so that not even a white-gloved inspector can find one jot or tittle out of place. And then, well you know what happens next. His Father takes the ax meant for your legs and chops Jesus off from His friends and family and throws Him into the hellfire of judgment to suffer and burn. And while you and I may scream because of something we did or didn't do, or done to us in a dream: Jesus isn't dreaming when He screams, "My God, My God why have your forsaken Me?"
That's a why' question that God does answer. The Father abandons the Son, drops Him into hellfire, so as not to drop you there. But Jesus doesn't stay there. No, He, by suffering the hell you, I, and all people deserve, quenches the unquenchable fires of God's wrath against sinners. To prove this, God the Father raises the Son on Easter, and the Only Begotten Son of God born of Mary ascends in flesh and blood to do the impossible. As a Man, He pours out the Holy Spirit upon humanity. He puts the Holy Spirit in the mouths of men to forgive sins. He puts the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism to wash, rebirth, and regenerate sinners. And He puts His Spirit in Bread and Wine for where His Body and Blood are present there must be His Spirit too. And wherever the Spirit is present no more do sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. But rather His blessings flow as far as the curse is found. But Jesus does one last thing: He not only gathers His people to Himself but He burns those who reject Him.
But let's not finish on that note. Because while Advent tis the season for doing and tis the season for done, tis also the season for the rose. That's why the pink candle is lit on this Sunday. In fact, rose colored paraments were appointed for this Sunday when it was an island of joy in a season of repentance. The white joy of who Jesus is God in flesh and blood and what He came to do redeem us from sin, death, and devil - bled into the purple of penitence producing a rose color. Prior to the 1982 hymnal, Lutheran Worship, and blue taking over the purple, this was not John the Baptist Sunday. It's theme was joy. The Introit began with the first words of our Epistle reading; "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice." And the Collect was the ancient Latin one. Unlike our present one which focuses on what we do "know this salvation and serve You", it focused on what Jesus does: "Give ear to our prayers and lighten the darkness of our hearts by Thy gracious visitation."
The Third Sunday in Advent originally expressed Anne Murray's sentiment "We sure could use a little good news today." Today the thought is like that in Nehemiah. He preached: "'This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.' For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength'" (8:9-10). But if joy in Jesus is one more thing you must do, it can't be your strength. It's the Lord rejoicing over you that is your strength; that lightens your darkness. Isaiah 65 says the Lord's rejoicing and taking delight when He comes that's what quiets weeping and dries tears.
Today is a day for the joy of the hunt. This may not be much of an illustrations for some of you, but let's try. The root sense of jubilation' is the "'exultant hunting call." Writers of the Christian era borrowed it early on with the sense to rejoice in the Lord as the hunter in his quarry" (A Browser's Dict., 214). If you're not a hunter, you might not get that a joyous hunting call is not, "I get to shoot at that; I get to kill that." No, it's the joy of "at last there it is." There, at last in Jesus, is the answer to my sin and sinfulness; there, at last in Jesus, is light for my darkness; filling for my emptiness, and there at last is being done rather than more do, do, do.
Today is not only the joyous cry of the successful hunt, "There it is!" It's the joy of the halo. And this takes us back to the scariest seen in the text. The threshing floor where the wheat is gathered and the chaff is burned. But this place of terror can be one of great joy. How so? The Greek word for threshing flood is halos. From halos we get halos which forgiven sinners for Christ's sake wear as indication of the holiness they have in Him. Where's the connection between a threshing floor and halo? The dust of the threshing floor hanging in the air diffuses the sun's rays creating a halo around everything (Ibid., 169). The blood, sweat, and tears of Jesus that springs from the threshing He received in His Passion and crucifixion hangs in the air to cast halos around you.
Tis the Sunday for the rose. Our last hymn is from the 2006 hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, because it keeps the translation, rose. The Lutheran Hymnal has "Behold a Branch (not a rose) is blooming." This is accurate because in the original German, "ein Ros" equals Old German "ein Reis" (shoot, offshoot, sprig), and not necessarily a rose (eine Rose) (https://www.german-way.com/). In the 1599 original the rose was a reference to Mary and the hymn was in honor of her. The second verse says, "The roseis the pure virgin Mary." This was changed already in the 19th century to shift the emphasis to Christ (Handbook to TLH, 458). Why? Because Mary isn't the reason for the season. And Jesus, in the words of the hymn, is the "flower whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air," dispelling "with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere." Tis the season to step into the Light and breathe deeply. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Advent (20181216); Luke 3: 7-18