Sermons That Work

Stir Up Your Power, Advent 3 (C) – 2000

December 17, 2000


Power. What a strange thing to be thinking about in the midst of Christmas shopping and holiday plans. But today’s lessons and prayers are about just that. Power. Today we ask for God’s power to come amongst us. We hear, in Luke, that John the Baptist’s power wasn’t enough. In Zephaniah we are told of the power of God in the midst of Israel bringing victory. And the collect brings us together with:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.

Advent is often seen as a time of preparation. A time of waiting and expectation. And today on this Third Sunday of Advent we hear the lessons and make our plans. Many of us have watched this way for years. When we hear in Zephaniah of a warrior in our midst that gives victory we know what to expect. When John the Baptist speaks of one more powerful than he who will come, we sit securely knowing that after one more Sunday all will be clear. We know. We are, amidst the tinsel, waiting for the Jesus we know.

But today, remember that Zephaniah didn’t know exactly who the king would be in Israel’s midst. And even more immediately, neither did John – even if we are told John and Jesus were cousins. John the Baptist, according to what we are told, only recognizes Jesus when Jesus comes to be baptized. Today we are promised power among us, but not the form it will take.

One of the challenges and privileges of the church year is that we can relive the story of Jesus’ life and death. And, yes, what we are reliving in this season is that we are waiting. But what we forget in the midst of the Christmas preparations around us is that, really, like Zephaniah and John, we don’t know what we are waiting for. What we do instead of waiting is remember. We remember last year. We remember the end of the story, which happens in a week or so.

But we are missing an opportunity. We are, if you will, given the opportunity to not remember. To wait and not know exactly what we are waiting for. To be promised power and not know the form it will take. We are given the opportunity to know that things aren’t quite right. That things may be different. That there is a power that can change us. That how we are doing things might be open to question. That, just like the soldiers and the tax collectors questioning John, there are things we can do to put our lives in order. Ways to be ready when the kingdom comes.

There is a story going around about a man who wanted to see and hear God. So he went out to a hilltop and yelled and pleaded with God. “Speak to me!” And a bird sang. And disappointed he again begged God to speak to him and all he heard was the sound of children playing in the distance. “Please God, touch me!” he cried and the wind blew across his cheek. And discouraged at not having his plea answered the man prayed, “God, show yourself to me!” And a butterfly flew across his path. And when he got home, convinced that God had forsaken him, his daughter ran out to greet him, but he felt abandoned by God.

Now hearing a story like this, it is easy to see God. But in this story this man was as certain about what it means to see and hear God as we are about the end of the stories we heard today.

So for this third week of Advent, at least, let us be willing to not be so certain what the preparations and waiting is all about. Let us look, again, at the word with which we began. Power. What does power mean in terms of something we are asking for among us? Some people seek power. Others are afraid of it. Some are critical of it. But today we are asking for it, for power in our midst, “because we are sorely hindered by our sins.” Now this doesn’t sound, exactly, like the warrior who brings us victory as in Zephaniah. And the preaching of John with the threats of a power who will clean up the chaff sounds a little more uncomfortable, unless, again it involves others.

But what all of our lessons insist, and John the Baptist makes explicit, is that this is good news. That this power that will come among us is something we want, something we need. Something to help us. The Philippians didn’t know when Jesus, the Christ, was coming again either. But they, too, thought they knew. It was going to happen soon and some of them knew people who remembered him. But we know that their remembering as well as their waiting wasn’t what they expected. However, like them, we can benefit by being told “the Lord is near” – and we can hold that however this power comes among us it will give us peace and guard our hearts with fire and strength.

So we wait. And pray for the Messiah, the Lord, to be in our midst. And let us also pray that we can give up knowing how that savior will appear and that our eyes will not only see but notice, our ears not only hear but understand, and our bodies will recognize the touch of that presence. Amen.

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