15th December 2020 Canvey Methodist Church Bible Studies

 

Canvey Methodist Church Bible Study- 15th December- 

Third Week of Advent Theme: Rejoice In The Lord 


 

Bible Readings

 

Epistle:1Thessalonians 5; 16-23

 

6 Be joyful always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not put out the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 avoid every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Gospel - Luke 3:3-18.  New International Version.  John the Baptist Prepares the Way

 

3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

    make straight paths for him.

5 Every valley shall be filled in,

    every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

    the rough ways smooth.

6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[a]

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with[b] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.


 

Background and Comment;

 

Who would believe that we have now reached the third week of Advent. Christmas Day is now just ten days away! 

Back in church history, and indeed still in some church traditions today, this period of Advent was a more solemn affair; involving a fast that lasted 40 days in preparation for Christmas. It commenced on the day after the feast of Saint Martin (11 November) and continued right up until Christmas Day when the coming of Jesus was marked with feasting and celebration. Hence the 25th December became known as a “feast day”, the “Feast of Christmas”. 

In the ninth century, though, the duration of this Advent period was reduced to four weeks (a period starting four Sundays before Christmas) but it nonetheless still retained the earlier characteristic of being a time of repentance and reflection. In the middle of this reflective time though, the third Sunday of Advent was declared as a “half-time” day of Joy amidst the penitential  fasting and exercises of the both the previous and the following two weeks. These sombre disciplines of fasting were, on this day of Joy (Latin: Gaudette), put aside in order to symbolize that joy and gladness were just “around the corner” in the shape of the promised arrival of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day and the hope of redemption that came with his incarnation. 

So that's a bit of history behind the third week of Advent 

Today, the period of Advent reflection tends to be less of a solemn affair, especially in our Methodist tradition. We do still celebrate the coming of Jesus (both his first and second comings) through the writings of the old testament prophets, through the preaching of John the Baptist, and through the vibrant descriptions of nativity as found in the Gospels, but the tradition of fasting is less of a feature.

And so to our “third week of advent” theme, namely that of “Rejoicing”. This comes as a welcome splash of light and colour amidst the darkness and gloom of a December midwinter. It comes as a liberating shaft of light especially for today, with news of a Tier 3 Covid status being imposed on Castlepoint.

 

St Paul tells us about the need to Rejoice. He urges ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. 

 

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob." Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1

 

But then the gospel reading for today is a bit strange. It introduces us to John the Baptist and at first glance, it does not seem to inspire rejoicing! 

 

The Bible commentator Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio says of this passage, “Wait a minute!  What is that stark, strident saint of the desert doing here, on “Rejoice Sunday”?  His stern call to repentance does not seem to fit.

 

But if we think about it and dig a little deeper using our imagination there is indeed joy to be found. If we were to travel back in time, and mingle with the crowd, what might we find?

I like the vivid description of such an encounter from the pen of Christian Author Bryony Taylor. 

“Picture the scene. It’s 2000 years ago. You’re a God- fearing Jew who lives in Galilee. You’ve heard stories of a strange, wild, but wise man out in the desert who is bringing some new teaching about God. He is baptising people in water. You decide, along with some friends to make the dangerous journey out into the desert to hear him for yourself. What is this amazing new message he has? You’ve been walking for a good couple of hours and eventually you find the crowd around this man called John. He’s dressed strangely in rough camel skin and is sitting in silence under the shade of a tree. You wait for something to happen. Looking around the silent, shifting and expectant crowd you notice a few Roman soldiers, their armour glinting in the sun and even some tax collectors. You look down – not wanting to be spotted by these intimidating men. Suddenly, John leaps to his feet, a stern look in his eye and shouts “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape what’s coming to you?” You’re taken aback. How could he be so rude? Strangely though, you want to hear more. You hang on his every word and so does everyone in the crowd. His teaching is so powerful that you wonder if he could be the messiah, God’s anointed one, the one your people have been waiting for. As soon as this thought enters your mind John says: “I baptise you with water, but one with more power than I will baptise you with fire. I’m not worthy even to undo his sandals, he is coming to reap the harvest, to separate the wheat from the chaff!”

 

Did you spot the joy in the story? It is there for us to find.

Advent is about expectation – in our reading today it says that the crowd was full of expectation. We, in the run up to Christmas, are also full of expectation. Where do you expect to find the presence of God?

 

John the Baptist was sent by God to “point to the coming of Jesus Christ”. In today’s Gospel reading, Luke gives us some hints as to what the good news about the kingdom is, some ideas of what to expect the world will look like when Jesus is around.

 

Hint number 1. The first hint is in the kind of people that gathered around John. Some people there were Jews – who were pretty confident that they were God’s chosen people. Then we have two other groups that you wouldn’t expect to be there – some tax collectors – unpleasant individuals who often took more money than they were supposed to in taxes working for the Roman government. The other group were Roman soldiers from the hated occupying forces. These were the people who were attracted to John, not just religious people but other folk, foreigners and outcasts. So the first clue about the good news is that God’s kingdom is for everyone. 

 

Hint number 2: The second clue is in John the Baptist’s teaching. He tells the people to give to those who are in need and to live in an honest way in order to please God. He doesn’t, as we might expect, tell the soldiers and tax collectors to stop working for the Romans: He is more interested in the intentions of their hearts. He uses the imagery of growing fruit. John is telling the people that it’s no good them merely going through the motions with God – it is the fruit that our lives produce that is the evidence that Godly Change has occurred. God isn’t interested in what the world thinks looks good, He looks deep into our motivations. John’s baptism was one of repentance. The word repentance, in Greek, metanoia, means to change your mind or to turn around – to see the world in a different way. Doesn’t John’s teaching sound a lot like the teaching of Jesus?

 

Hint number 3: The third clue about the good news of the kingdom is that something is coming that is even better than we expected. John says, “you think I’m exciting? Wait until you meet the one that comes after me!”

 

So it is here, in this desert, a dry place, a place of desolation that we hear a voice bringing good news.

 

Good news turns up in unexpected places. When the wise men came they did not find the new king in the palace in Jerusalem but instead in a small forgotten area on the edge of Jerusalem. If we went looking for God today, would we expect to find him at County Hall in Chelmsford or would He surprise us by being found on Canvey Island in a houseboat moored up on Smallgains creek?

 

God is full of surprises!  Here we have found God in a desert place. We don’t always find God where we expect him to be. But he is here with us, God with us, Emmanuel. This is the joy we find on the third Sunday of Advent.

 

In the “Every day with Jesus Bible devotional this month”, the wonder of how God came down into the world he created has been highlighted as the greatest distinctive characteristic of the Christian faith.

 

“John1:1-14.  The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. 

 

In all other world religions the emphasis is upon humanity’s search for God; In Christianity the emphasis is on God's Search for humankind. Many religions have a word with more words to follow but only the Christian faith has a “Word become flesh”.  

 

1Timothy3:1-16; He appeared in the flesh……..was preached among the nations. Was believed on in the world.v16.

 

Jesus came and lived a human life. He experienced its rollercoaster ride; Its ups and its downs. He knew love, joy and friendship but he also felt the sharp stabbing pain of betrayal, rejection, humiliation and finally death. There is nothing that we have ever experienced that can quite match that moment of dark engulfing despair that Jesus felt on the cross as the sin of the world was laid on His shoulders and God His Heavenly Father turned His face away.

 “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

(Matthew 27:46)

In resurrection, Jesus, having become sin for you and for me, opened heavens gates for all who love and follow Him. 

With today’s news of the Tier 3 Covid Status for our area, we may feel that we are in a desert. However, the hope of the third Sunday in Advent message is that no matter what,  we can rejoice because God’s kingdom is coming, even here in this desert place, a kingdom where everyone is welcome, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female  – people who worship a God who can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine!

Amen

 

Rejoice In The Lord Always; And Again I Say Rejoice.

https://youtu.be/8Rs1SeuBgU0


 

May God Bless You All

Colin

 

Colin