Zephaniah 3:14-20

Luke  3:7-18

“Is It Good News?”

Advent 3       December 16,2018

            In our Old Testament reading for today Zephaniah is proclaiming a day of joy, a day of rejoicing. He is proclaiming a day when God’s will will be prominent in the land, exiles will return home, and those who are hurt or injured will be healed.  Indeed, a joyful, beautiful day.  This is a day of joy.  It’s a day of good news that Zephaniah is promising. It will be a day of rejoicing for all people. This is a beautiful dream Zephaniah gives us of the kingdom of God. It is as Zephaniah says,  a day of good news. 

            Why can’t we just hold tight to this good news and go on dreaming until Christmas and beyond?

            Well, again this week as we did last week in our Gospel reading  we have John the Baptist standing in our way,  and this week he has a more forceful message than last.  He even dares to speak of something that we might see as bad news, he speaks of repentance. Listen to how Eugene Peterson in his translation The Message translates John’s assault on his hearers:

“Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing, slithering down here to the river?  Do you think that a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgement?  It’s your life that must be changed, not just your skin!”

            Wow. You may logically ask what these two lessons before us today have in common. Is it that the good news of Zephaniah becomes the bad news of John the Baptist? Or — is there more?

Yes, there is indeed more.

            Both Zephaniah and John the Baptist addressed God’s will for the world.  Zephaniah deals with it as though the dream, or the good news, were not quite fulfilled.  John the Baptist deals with God’s will and kingdom as if it were a dream, – as if it were good news, that had been fulfilled.

John knows that we are on the other side of Zephaniah’s dream.  Zephaniah’s  day of good news, the day of the Lord, has come. The day of rejoicing has arrived.  John knows that the will of God is now a possibility and not just a dream for us.  John knows that all this has come about because God has come into our lives and our world through Jesus Christ. 

            It seems to be good news. But is it?

 Christ has come into our world. God has come to be one of us.  History has been changed forever. The dream, the good news, of Zephaniah has become a reality. The will of God is possible. That is what we celebrate at Christmas.

            Christ has come. Dreams can be fulfilled. But, how do we respond? God has come into our world. God has come into our lives.  But  how do we respond?  Does it make a difference in how we live? Is it really good news?

            That is John’s message to us. Christ has come into our lives and into our world.  Dreams like Zephaniah’s can be fulfilled. That is good news.  But as we live our lives, watch the news on TV or read the paper, we see news that is not the good news that Zephaniah dreams of and that the coming of Christ has made a reality.  We see violence, hatred, poverty, sickness.  Not the good news of love and peace and healing Zephaniah dreams of and Christ brings.  We may wonder what we must do to make the dream of Zephaniah more of a reality for our world.  

            John the Baptist tells us what we must do. We must repent.  We must change.  We need our lives, as Peterson puts it, and not just our skins, changed.  Then the coming of Christ will truly be good news.

            Yes, like those who first heard John, we would do well to ask: “What must we do?” And like his message was to those who originally heard him, John’s message, God’s message, to us is: Repent. Have your life changed. Let the coming of Christ change your life. Let others see the change that Christ has made in your life. Share the change that Christ has made in your life change those around you and our community and our world as you live in a different way.

            So, is the coming of Christ good news?  It is only god news if we let Christ’s coming change our lives.

            What are the “fruits worthy of repentance” that John talks about? What are they for us? I would suggest actions that go along with the actions John suggested to those who asked him the same question.  Actions that will show to others that God is in our world and in our lives.  Actions that will show to others that our lives never have to be the same again because Christ is in our world and in our lives and their lives never have to be the same, either.  Actions that will let them know Christ has come and that it is good news, for them and for us.  Actions that show that our lives have been changed by Christ and theirs can be changed, too. Actions that show that the fear, hatred, poverty, and violence of our world can be changed into the peace, love, and salvation that Zephaniah dreamed of and Christ can bring.  

            The good news here is that the coming of Christ can change how we live — now! The repentance John preached about is a complete change of life because Christ has come.  Our faith in Christ must give a new orientation to our lives because of what God has done for us through Christ.  The salvation we have because of Christ must be matched with actions.  Concrete, specific actions must be made in response to what God is doing in our lives through Christ. Only when we see our actions as a direct response to God is Jesus’ coming going to be “good news.”

            The Danish theologian Kierkegaard tells the story of a rich King who, at a very high price, bought a faultless team of horses.  The horses were the best in the land.  But the horses were allowed to slip out of  training.  After a year they were weak, dull, quirky, and full of bad habits. At last the king asked the Royal Coachman to come in and see what he could do with them.  After a month, no other team in the land carried their head so proudly and no other team could keep up with them. “How did this happen?” The king demanded. It was easy enough to explain. The king had driven the horses according to the horses standard of how they should be driven. The Royal Coachman drove them according to his standards.

            Christ has come! We must let God drive us according to His standards. We must let God change us. Then Christ’s coming will indeed be good news, not just for us, but also for all we come into contact with every day. We must have concrete, visible, measurable actions that show how our lives have been changed by Christ. What are these concrete, visible, measurable actions that can show how our lives have been changed by Christ? What specific actions show a change in our lives?

            The specific actions are going to be different for each of us, just as they were different for each group that John addressed, but these new actions must be actions of love, they must be actions of compassion, they must be actions of commitment to God and to others,  they must be actions that show an increased love for God and for those around us. 

Actions such as increased sense of responsibility to be actively involved in the worship, fellowship, and outreach of the church are some examples.  Actions such as an increased interest in what the Church is doing in the community and getting involved in that.  Actions such as looking for specific ways to share God’s love with the world, sharing what God has blessed you with to help others.

John suggested specific actions to his listeners to show that their lives were more oriented towards God and that they were now being “driven” by God. These were actions that showed that their lives had been changed by God. Look for specific ways to let God change your life.  Look for specific ways to let the coming of Christ change your life. Look for ways to let the coming of Christ indeed be “good news” for you. Look for ways for you to be “driven” according to God’s standards!

            A woman was rushing through a department store loaded with wrapped Christmas presents.  She hurredly turned a corner and ran into a man coming from the next aisle.  Her packages flew everywhere.  As the man helped her pick up her packages she exclaimed: “I hate Christmas! It always has a way of turning things upside down! 

            Maybe that’s just what we need! Maybe we need to have our lives turned upside down this Christmas. Maybe we need to have our priorities changed. Maybe we need to truly have our lives changed by the coming of Christ. The coming of Christ into our lives and into our world is indeed good news, it is indeed joy,  it is indeed a new way to live. The coming of Christ into our lives and into our world means letting Christ make a difference in our lives and in our world.  It means letting Christ change us. It means sharing the change Christ  has made in us with others. It means letting the good news that Christ has come change your life and through the new way you live change those around you. 

            Christ has come to fulfill the dream of Zephaniah and to lead us into new ways to live. Christ has come to change our lives and our world. Christ has come to re-orient us to God. Christ has come to show us God’s standard and drive us according to God’s standards. Christ has come to turn our lives upside down! Let the coming of Christ that we celebrate this Christmas lead you to see the good news of the coming of Christ and lead you to live a life that is completely changed by God. Then the coming of Christ will be good news for us, for our community, and for the world.

            In a few moments we are going to Install a new class of Elders for our Church.  Pay close attention to the questions I will ask of them and that Faye will ask of each of you.  Many of you have answered these questions in the past.  Let’s all strive to live in the ways these questions direct us, the ways of God, so that the coming of Christ will make a difference in our lives, and indeed be good news for each of us,  for our community, and our world. Amen.