Luke invites us to name the good news we see in the world for one another. In so doing, we shape God’s coming to us. We come to meet God as God meets us.
Vicar Anna Helgen
Third Sunday of Advent, year C
texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever been geocaching? I haven’t yet, but I have plans to start because it sounds super fun. Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity where you plug in a set of coordinates into your GPS device (like a smartphone), and then you go to those coordinates to find a geocache, or what most people call, a cache. Each cache contains a logbook where you can write down your name and sometimes they contain other trinkets and toys that previous geocachers have left behind. It’s like going on a treasure hunt, but for all ages, and you can do it just about anywhere. Chances are there is a geocache hiding somewhere in this neighborhood, maybe even several!
My friend tells a lovely story of her first experience with geocaching. She was sitting on a bench near Lake Harriet, overlooking the rose garden when all of a sudden two dads and their sons approached and said, “We think there might be a geocache where you’re sitting. Can we look under this bench?” She moved, of course, and then witnessed the joy and celebration of these young boys finding the cache, recording their names inside, and then returning it to its place under the bench for the next geocacher to find. What a delightful moment of rejoicing to witness.
On this third Sunday in Advent, Paul invites us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Lately I’ve found that it is hard to rejoice though because we’re confronted daily by the harsh realities of this world. There is so much to worry about. So many lives to grieve. So many broken systems. So much heartache and sadness. So much fear. How I’d love to feel like those young geocachers, finding joy in something so simple: following GPS coordinates, finding a box of treasures, and signing my name in a book.
Instead, I feel burdened. Burdened by what I hear on the news about violence, terrorism, and xenophobia. Burdened by this world, where it feels like everything is going wrong. Burdened because I don’t always know what to do in the midst of such conflicts and crises. Burdened because I can’t escape. We can’t escape. We are a part of this world, too.
I know there is hope in Advent, as we wait for Jesus to come to us in this world, in a human body. Because it reminds me that God gets it. That God knows what it feels like to have a sliver or to ache for those who are hungry even though our own bellies might be full. The realities of this world are embraced and understood by God. And God, too, feels burdened by the burdens that we carry.
We live in a time when rejoicing feels hard, and yet our scripture readings today invite us to rejoice, shout aloud, and sing for joy! God, too, is the subject of these verbs which is a fun thing to consider: our God is one who sings and shouts and rejoices!
So let’s ask ourselves this same question as the crowds ask John the Baptist: what are we to do? How can we rejoice like those young geocachers? How can we sing praises in a time when the burden is so heavy we don’t feel like lifting our voices to sing? How can we shout aloud when all we can muster is a small quiet whisper? How can we join God’s voice in rejoicing at the goodness of God’s coming kingdom into our world?
John invites those gathered to share with one another, to be fair, and to be kind. These are simple behaviors, behaviors we learned as children, but ones that we all can practice in our daily lives. I love how John has a specific piece of wisdom for each group, like he knows exactly what they need to hear. We’re invited to practice this ordinary kingdom work, too--to share with our neighbors, to act with justice, and to be kind to one another. When we do so, our lives become places of holiness, thin places, where God’s presence is made known more clearly.
But we’re also called, like Luke the Evangelist, to claim this as good news. To name the promise of Advent...that God is near...that God is coming to us. When we name it, we are more likely to notice these encounters with the sacred, and then our hearts will be moved to rejoice--to sing with joy and celebrate the coming of God!
God’s incarnation is a strange reality, though. Because it is here, and yet it’s not. It is coming. It’s on the way. It is a work in progress. Our invitation from Luke is to inhabit this holy space, this already and not yet space, these moments pregnant with hope, joy, love, and peace. Those experiences of the ordinary that somehow transcend what seems possible given the world we live in. It’s about noticing the times when everyday people like you and me bring kindness and love to others. In so doing, we shape God’s coming to us. We name it for ourselves and for others. We come to meet God as God meets us.
This is why we pray “your kingdom come” Sunday after Sunday...so that our hearts and lives might be shaped by God and that we might better embody God’s justice and mercy in the world.
This is why we sing hymns, the young and the old, singing with one voice…so that the words we sing might join together and become true in our own lives and in the life of the community.
This is why we live as John invites us to live with kindness and love toward our neighbors…so that all might become participants in God’s reign of peace.
This is why we are able to shout with joy as we name this as good news. God’s incarnation is breaking in even when the powers of this world try to restrain it. There is reason to rejoice! Both for us, and for God!
When we act like God is actually coming into this world, then we somehow come to believe it. God shows up. God’s kingdom breaks in. We see it! And suddenly we become a witness, not just to God who is coming, but to God who is here, in our midst.
Perhaps for these next few weeks of Advent we might become something like geocachers for God. We can study the world with our Advent senses...living with an awareness of how God might be coming near to us through what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. You won’t need a GPS or a map; just yourself and your ordinary life. The goal of this Advent geocaching adventure: to seek the treasures of God’s coming into the world and name them as good news!
And, in case you need a little help along the way, a friend of mine who has logged many hours geocaching gives these words of wisdom: “Don’t just give up if you don’t find the cache right away. Sometimes it’s right there and you just have to keep looking for it. It might look different than what you thought. Sometimes it’s a really small container or it’s hidden in a funny spot.”
Whatever you do, don’t just give up. God is here. So keep looking. Keep sharing insights with one another. Keep spreading the joy and light of God’s coming into this world. And don’t forget that God often shows up in the most unexpected places!