Rejoicing in Justice

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on December 16, 2018, the Third Sunday of Advent, called “Rejoicing in Justice.” It is a reflection on Luke 3:1-18.

Here is a written excerpt from the conclusion:

“Prepare the way of the Lord! Level the mountains, fill in the valleys! Straighten the crooked ways, smooth out the rough paths! Let’s get this road built! The King is coming! And all flesh will see the salvation of our God!”

This is good news! All those powerful people Luke lists at the beginning of this story—Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas, Caiaphas—they are not the king who is coming. They represent the kingdoms of this world, the way of kings that only leads to social injustice, economic oppression, political violence—the way of death.

But the king who is coming—the Lord God—is bringing God’s kingdom of justice and peace and joy! And all flesh will see the salvation of our God! Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth!

“So what do we do, John?” people ask him. “How do we build a highway for this kind of empire to come? Tell us: how do we fill the valleys and tear down the mountains and straighten the crooked ways and smooth out the rough ways, so that this king can come and reign?”

And in reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. You who have much, give to those who have little. Economic equity, not the economic inequality of empire.

Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Don’t be deceitful or manipulative. Don’t commit violence, or even threaten it. Don’t participate in the economic oppression and political subjugation of empire.

Here, then, is how God’s way of righteousness is being paved, this is how God’s kingdom is coming near: through everyday, down-to-earth acts of justice and mercy. Those who have are content with what they have, and they share with those who have not. Those in power refuse to abuse their power for their own ends, and they use their power to empower others.

This means we need to do some soul-searching. It means we might have to make some tough choices. That’s what “repentance” is all about: soul-searching and tough choices.

Do I have more than I need? Do I know those who need what I have? Then I need to give—even if it means giving up some of my comfort or ease.

Do I have power or status over others—in my society, in my church, in my school, at my job? Do I know others without power or status, who are vulnerable or suffering because of this? Then I need to use my power and status to increase theirs, even if it means losing my own power or status in the process.

Do I benefit from the “empire” in which we live—our political system, our economic system, our society and culture, our religious community? Do I know others who are not benefiting from this “empire,” who are even being harmed by it? Then I need to use my benefit for their benefit.

The Messiah whom John the Baptist pointed to once described the kingdom of God as a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. So tiny, so insignificant, that you could easily lose sight of it, or even lose it altogether. Yet when it is planted in the ground, it grows and grows until it becomes a giant tree, making a home for the birds of the air and shade for the whole earth.

Everyday, down-to-earth acts of justice and mercy. Tiny seeds of justice and mercy. Giving a coat, a meal, a cup of cold water. Comforting the grieving, healing the sick. Choosing honesty over deceit, choosing kindness over cruelty, choosing gentleness over violence, choosing contentment over greed, choosing selflessness over our own comfort and security.

And from these everyday, down-to-earth acts of justice and mercy, a highway will be built in the desert of our dark and dying world—smooth and straight and level, the best of roads—and God our king will come among us, bringing his kingdom of justice and peace and flourishing life for all.

And then, in the words of Isaiah,

we shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before us
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands! (Isa 55:12)

Amen! And amen.

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