St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, December 16, 2018
The Third Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Lesson: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah
Second Lesson: Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, which means that, after today, there’s only one Sunday left before Christmas. It seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? This season goes by so fast, which is probably one of the reasons why we’re encouraged to try and slow down in the midst of it all, to take a deep breath and to spend some time reflecting on what this season is really about.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
If you’re like me, the laundry list of things that have to get “checked off” before December 24th keeps getting longer and longer, and it feels like there will never be enough time to get it all done. During the holidays, we put so much pressure on ourselves to have the “perfect” Christmas-
- to find the most beautiful Christmas tree;
- to get all of the decorations put up on time;
- to bake all of the special treats that we want to share with friends and family;
- to purchase just the right gifts for our loved ones;
- and the list goes on and on.
Why is it that we put so much pressure on ourselves during this time of year? When we know that Advent is a time for stillness and contemplation, why is it that we load ourselves down with so many extra things to do?
There are probably more reasons than we can count, but I can tell you why I do it. It’s because of Sophie and Jude. It’s because, more than anything, I want our children to experience the best possible Christmas that they can, to have memories of this time with our family that they’ll treasure forever, and to know how important it is that we take time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Unfortunately, it’s that last little bit, the Jesus part, that often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. We rush through the four weeks of Advent, struggling to keep up with our ever-growing list of things to do, and when Christmas finally does arrive, we hear the beautiful story of the Nativity that we all love so dear. Sure. We talk about the birth of Jesus, but we rarely spend much time at all talking about the real significance of why Jesus came to live among us in the first place. We don’t spend nearly enough time talking about the significance of the Incarnation, our fundamental belief as Christians that the Son of God took on human form and came to live among us as one of us. It’s perfectly captured in the beloved “Christ Hymn” that we read in the second chapter of Philippians when the author writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with Godas something to be exploited,but emptied himself,taking the form of a slave,being born in human likeness.And being found in human form,he humbled himselfand became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
It’s that “emptied himself” part that I want to draw your attention to this morning because it has a lot to do with the message of repentance that we hear from John the Baptist in our lesson from Luke’s Gospel.
Jesus came to live among us not to be served but to serve others. Jesus came not to be loved but to love others and to show us how to do the same. Jesus came not to rule with an iron fist but to show the world that the Kingdom of God begins with mercy and forgiveness. In every aspect of his earthly life, Jesus perfectly shows us what it looks like to let go of one’s life and to hand it over to God.
Theologians have a fancy word that they use to describe this self-emptying nature of Jesus that we witness in the Gospels – kenosis, a Greek word, which literally means, “to empty.” As followers of Jesus and members of the Body of Christ, part of our call is to imitate the life of Jesus, to empty our selves so that the love of God in Christ may be manifested through us. By the way, this is also part of the doctrine of the Incarnation. Christ continues to be made known to the world through our words and our actions. It’s like that beautiful quote from the Christian mystic, Teresa of Avila. “Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he walks to do good; yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”
It’s true. Christ has no body on earth now but yours, but in order to serve as members of Christ’s Body, we must be willing to let go of our own selfish ways and to turn back to God in those moments when we fall short of our calling. This is the purpose of John’s call to repentance in our Gospel lesson for this morning. John’s call to the people gathered in the wilderness is a call for them to amend their lives, to prepare a path for the one who is coming after him. When the people ask John what they must do to change their ways, he responds by telling them, “If you have two coats, give one away.” “Do the same with your food.” To the tax collectors, he said, “No more extortion- collect only what is required by law.” To the soldiers, he said, “No shakedowns, no blackmail- and be content with your rations.” John’s answer is simple. Don’t be selfish. Be fair and just. Take care of one another, and do good.
This is how we really celebrate Christmas. This is how we prepare to welcome the Christ-child into our midst, by emptying ourselves and recommitting our lives to the work that God has called us to do.
Christmas isn’t about having the perfect Christmas tree or having to complete everything on our to-do-list before December 24th or buying the perfect Christmas gifts for our loved ones. It’s about recognizing the fact that we’ve already received the greatest gift that we could ever receive in Christ Jesus. It’s about making room in our lives for Jesus to change us from the inside out and being content in knowing that the love of Christ lives within us. So, as we continue to make our way through this short season of Advent, let us hold these things close to hearts. Let us be gentle with ourselves and willing to let go of the need to have the “perfect” Christmas because the truth is that every Christmas is perfect. Amen.
Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.