This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of God gathered as Serviceton Shared Ministry at the Church of Christ on Sunday 16th December 2018.
Isaiah 12:2-6; Luke 3:7-10
So, I’m wearing pink; what of it? For those churches who follow the tradition of an Advent wreath, and do it with candles of specific colour, today as the third Sunday in Advent is when the pink candle would be lit. So yes, pink socks and a pink tie.
Since God is our strength and salvation we can trust and not be afraid. The words of Isaiah 12:2 are similar to those of Moses recorded in Exodus 15:2, and the psalmist in Psalm 118:14, most likely with the same intent. In this prayer of thanksgiving Isaiah speaks of the joy bubbling over in the life of the woman or man who knows that God’s grace and forgiveness has been poured out; we can also think of Mary’s song when we read Isaiah 12:4-6. Such superabundant joy leads to proclamation, to shouting out the wonders of God and the work God has done, so that all nations will hear about God and will know that God is worthy of praise and exaltation. God is with us we proclaim, God is in our midst, so why would we not sing loud praise for God? More than that, some of the earliest church scholars saw Isaiah 12:3 and its reference to the spring of the saviour (rather than wells of salvation as the NRSV puts it) as a specific reference not only to Jesus but to baptism. If you know that God is good, and that God has saved you, and you are minded to shout and sing and dance and pray, then wash in the river and be made whole. On this day of joy and the pink candle, and in this house where the tank sits behind me waiting, let us each remember our baptism and where God has brought us from that day of water until this day of worship.
It can be a bit of a shock then to move from this great song of celebration and the invitation to baptism to read how John the Baptiser declared the water ready. Let’s look at Luke 3:7-9 again; I have to tell you that even though there were no classes in how to give an altar call at my university I am sure that John would not have been on the syllabus. “What do youse want?” he says, “who told youse to come?” Hardly Christ-like language is it? Well actually it is a lot like the language of Jesus, calling out the pride of the prideful and the arrogance of the arrogant. “Youse mob think you’re saved already, don’t you, and that being an Abraham-descendent is enough, that you don’t need to act with justice and mercy because you were born into the right religious family. Well you’re wrong because that’s not what God is looking for, but who told youse that, eh? What are youse doing out here?” Is John trying to keep people away from those wells of salvation, the spring of the saviour? Seems like. Well maybe it does seem like, but not really, because what John is saying is what all the prophets have said, and what Isaiah said, and what Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ of God will say. The life-path of the baptised, the way of the wet, is not to rely on ancestry but to depend upon God alone and to commit to discipleship.
Those of us who belong to God and Kaniva & Serviceton Shared Ministry by way of the Uniting Church might be aware that our denomination refers to ourselves as “a pilgrim people”. Have you heard that before UCA mob? Yeah. As a people on pilgrimage we know we haven’t arrived yet, but we are on the way, and along the way we fellowship with each other as fellow travellers. As John says in Luke 3:11 we look out for each other, sharing our coats where we have two and our mate has none, sharing our sandwiches and water-bottles likewise. Mostly it’s a metaphor, a very powerful metaphor, but sometimes it is seen in practical help like the help you gave me as a church last month when my car died and they who had two cars gave to me who had none. And Church of Christ the same; the earliest traditions of Stone and Campbell speak of you as “Christians only, but not the only Christians”, and as “the Disciples”. No big and fancy denominational name, no massive creed, just a commitment to read the Bible and to follow its instruction. So whether you are walking in unity with the Pilgrim People on the Way, or you are part of the Church of the Disciples of Christ, or you have a different history which has brought you to Serviceton and this fellowship for this time you know that it is God who is your saviour, not your ten-greats-grandfather’s surname. And that because God is your saviour, and because you are a disciple and a pilgrim, (I say “and”, this is not an “either/or” thing in KSSM), you live with joyful fellowship with the rest of us, and excited follow-ship of the saviour in whose likeness God made you. That is what each of us was baptised into, whether it was as an adult plunged in a tank or as an infant with water poured over our scalps above a font, or something else, that is what each of us has committed to as a path for life.
The set reading for today actually goes on a bit. Today I asked that Luke 3:7-10 be read, but the lectionary would have had us read on until Luke 3:18. If we’d read as far as Luke 3:14 we would have heard John counselling people from many professions as they asked for special advice on how to do their jobs within the context of discipleship. It is as simple as being honest says John, show justice and mercy; basically act like God acts towards you as the Chosen people.
And so the source of our joy, the reason for the pink candle and clothing, is the gospel of God. The good news, the news which we celebrate, the news which cause Isaiah and Moses and Mary to bubble over with joy, is that God is on our side for no other reason than that we are loved. It’s nice to have had disciples for parents and grandparents: I did, and many of you did too. For some of you your parents and grandparents are in this house this morning, for others you can remember a time when they were. This is where the Jews of John’s day were; they were not all arrogant and self-important at all. After all, John was in the wilderness and speaking to people who were there, people who had bothered to journey out to the river and away from the cities and villages to hear him. But as John said to them so I say to you, as good as it is to have had Christian ancestors, and especially ones in the previous generation who told you about God, that is not what God is looking for. Your Christian ancestors were saved by God not because they had Christian ancestors but because they were disciples in their own generation. This is what is required of you. If you want the joy of the Lord, and if you want that joy as your strength, then choose discipleship as your way of life. It need not be denominational, and it need not be vocational in the narrowest sense where you must become a priest. In fact, according to the articulated positions of the Uniting Church and the Churches of Christ it need not even begin with a wet head; although both traditions and many others beside strongly endorse the idea of baptism as soon as is possible and appropriate, (unofficially in that order if the scripture at Acts 8:36 is to be believed, and it is). One of my favourite theologians has said about tradition in the church that true faithfulness is not about wearing your grandmother’s hat, but about having grandchildren of your own. In other words the strength that you have as a Christian today derived from your faith filled ancestors should be utilised to the outcome that you have faith filled descendents, who have you as their faith filled ancestor. And of course if you are not a child of Abraham well there is good news for you in John’s message and Isaiah’s message too. The whole world is to know the glory of God and the wonders due to God’s action on earth: the good news proclaimed to Gentiles as well as Jews is also for the children of non-Christians. I mean, if actual Roman soldiers can get discipleship advice from John the Baptist (Luke 3:14) then those of you who are the first Christian in your family for one or more generations can certainly get it too.
Unlike Philip on the road with the Ethiopian eunuch there is no water here, well not right now. But if you want more of the joy of God that Isaiah spoke about, and the rest of us have sung about, and that Christmas is all about then know this. Know that access to baptism and discipleship, or discipleship and baptism and more discipleship, is always available in this house. Don’t go home without it, and don’t let me or the leaders or deacons go home and leave you without it.
The joy of the Lord is our strength, and it is the Lord’s gift at Advent.