Today is about rejoicing (see especially Zephaniah and Philippians)! And yet... the reading from Luke gives us the “brood of vipers” speech from John the Baptist rather than Mary’s song, which comes next Sunday.
Today John has advice involving day to day responses to life’s circumstances: be satisfied with what you have. . . share with others. . . deal honorably. . . do not presume. . . pay attention.
The key to being glad and rejoicing is, in John’s admonitions, gratitude for what you are given. Reference to wages is to name what often signals either comfort or dissatisfaction: money. It sounds simple. For some people, however, the wages don’t stretch far enough. John’s charge is in response to the crowd asking him what he means they ought to do.
. . . John has to state the obvious, telling his hearers what they already know, or at least should. Care for the poor is the most basic Old Testament teaching, so John starts there. Abundance is meant for sharing, not hoarding for security; all that is required is seeing that others have none and then acting. . . John's answer seems to state the obvious: “Don't collect more than you are supposed to.” In the same way, the soldiers hear that they are not to extort by false accusation or other means: “Be satisfied with your wages.” . . . While prophetic preaching can and should call for change in social structures, individual responsibility and care should not be neglected.
Critical to the observance of the Advent season is the Baptist’s understanding of baptism, begun in the Luke reading from the Second Sunday in Advent and continued here. Seek out how it is that the sacrament of baptism shapes our ability as individual and as the church to rejoice. Hear how the Baptist sees the sacrament of baptism as crucial to the church’s identity.
Baptism is not about becoming a “member” of an organization; baptism is about being given a new way of living – one that sets apart a people who care about God’s goals in this world.
The two baptisms of water and fire do not stand in opposition. Both purify, but in different senses; one prepares the way for the other. The fire serves a sign of judgment as in the burning of chaff (v 17, cf. Malachi 3:2–4; 4:1) but also as a sign of the coming baptism of the Spirit. . . . More than the burning of fruitless trees, the baptism of Holy Spirit and fire separates out a people prepared to align themselves with God's purpose, the new kingdom that does not so much turn our values upside down as set what is already overturned to right-side up. In this sense, John's harsh words are “good news” that remind us to trust in God's promise of salvation, but also to watch out for presumption. – Paul E. Koptak
The prophet Zephaniah promises that the Lord’s protection is sure even through the disasters that await the people.
His message of salvation follows the hard but good news of judgment, a promise that the LORD will rise against false prophets and corrupt leaders, leaving a “humble and lowly” remnant of the people (v 12, cf. vv 1–13).
The eschatological oracle comes in three parts, each focused on an address to the city, personified here as “Daughter Zion/Daughter Jerusalem.” First, a call to sing, shout and rejoice comes with its rationale: the LORD has removed Jerusalem's punishment, but not that of its enemies. The LORD. . . stands with the people, not against them, so they need never be afraid of disaster again (vv 14–15).
A second address repeats that which was spoken already before adding what is new: “Do not fear …the LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory,” and who now joins in with their rejoicing and singing (vv 16–17).
Finally, the LORD . . . will remove their shame, bring them honor and praise and gather them in. Their fortunes will be restored, but proclamation based on this text will not dwell on the blessing of one nation and the defeat of others. Rather, their story of restoration and rejoicing point forward as signs of the ever-expanding kingdom of God, gracious Lord of all earth. – Paul E. Koptak
Paul writes from prison (1:12), exhorting the church at Philippi to stand firm in the face of suffering (1:28–29), even rejoicing as he does the same (2:17–18; 3:1). The theme of joy runs throughout the letter. . . grounded in the presence and peace of God. “The Lord is near,” and so the Philippians can rejoice, free from worry, letting their prayers inspire their gentleness (vv 5–6). . . . Peace that “surpasses all understanding” suggests the latter, pointing to shalom, the work of God toward well-being, rather than for protection from enemies. This peace brings an expectation that God will sustain the church through opposition while it waits for the final coming of Christ, Christ's kingdom and the fulfillment of shalom (cf. “peace” in 4:9). It does not remove the church from struggle, but rather provides the vision that helps the church endure it. – Paul E. Koptak
The common message is clear. The reason to rejoice is not founded in how well your life is going on this or that particular day . . . [but] because even in the midst of adversity, God is near . . . – John E. Smith
Paul E. Koptak is professor of communication and biblical interpretation at North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.
John E. Smith has served as a Methodist pastor for many years.
Homily Service 40, no. 1 (2006): 31-40.