A Message of Social Responsibility
Luke 3:7-18

Dr. William S. Epps, Senior Pastor

Sunday, December 12, 2021
The Third Sunday of Advent
Prayer: Lord we are grateful for this special season of the year. We continue to bask in the aura of this season as we ponder its implications for our lives as followers of Jesus the Christ.  Amen. 
7Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 10And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise12Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do13And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you14And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. 15And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; 16John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: 17Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. 18And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people. Luke 3:7-18


During the Sundays in Advent we remind ourselves of the gift we have received from God in Jesus Christ. We acknowledge that we need the Lord to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Oh Come Emmanuel and Save us from the destruction we cause ourselves. We light a candle signaling that Jesus gives light dispelling the darkness in which we are so often engulfed and guides our feet into the way of peace.

On the third Sunday of Advent, we light a candle as a symbol of joy.  May the joyful promise of your presence, Oh God, make us rejoice in our hope of salvation.  O come, O come Emmanuel! O come thou Dayspring, come and cheer, our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel - shall come to thee O Israel.

Advent is a time of anticipation about possibilities. Imagine the expectation of looking forward to something with bated breath. No matter how good or how bad things might be, you always have something for which to wish. Have you made up your wish list? Isn't that what we orient people to do, particularly at Christmas. Presents under a tree - some we wish contain what will fulfill our desire. Anticipation of wishes being fulfilled is the stuff of life. 

Let's figure out how to get from wishing and hoping, to anticipating with optimism and joy.  It's certainly a better place than hopelessness or cynicism.
Consider what it means to get from wishing and hoping
to anticipating with optimism and joy.  
Monday, December 13, 2021
We celebrate the birth of a babe in a manager who reminds us of the majestic, miraculous and mysterious quality of existence/life. Birth creates an atmosphere of anticipation, fulfillment and possibilities. Birth is a life changing experience which reminds us of the beauty of being despite the difficulties of reality. Birth is representative of the challenges of existence for life requires affection, attention and assurance.  Birth is symbolic of the hope that expectation fosters about the promise and potential for living (newsletter / December 2016)
On the first Sunday of advent season we began focusing on a passage that carried us from being troubled to joyful expectation: when things are seemingly at their worst, look up for your redemption draws nigh (Luke 21:28)

On the second Sunday of advent we celebrated the faithfulness of God. God is faithful to visit, redeem and save people from destruction (Luke 3:7-18). 
One of the basic themes of sacred writ is that the Lord visits, redeems and saves people from destruction in all of life's changing scenes. 

On this third Sunday in advent the passage of scripture may seem a little bit off kilter, not proper for this season. However, maybe this passage with its message in the wilderness is closer to the what the season is about. The undertones of this passage imply that God is on the verge of effecting systemic change. John's ministry is part of salvation history - about the way God deals with those persons who claim to belong to the Lord in particular. The prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5 is being fulfilled: the way of the Lord is to be prepared in the wilderness / however the voice in the wilderness is not confined to the wilderness but reaches beyond the desert. The image of a desert prophet's call to prepare for the salvation that God brings, recalls the exodus and desert journey of Israel as well as the preaching of Elijah. Luke testifies to the universality of the gospel which is John's general call to repentance and a reformed life. John's message creates a moment of truth which we must face. Groups of persons present themselves for instructions as to what it means to bear good fruit and John shapes an answer appropriate to them. John is not simply screaming rebukes, trying to reduce a crowd to a pool of guilt and fear, rather he has a message of social responsibility.
Consider what it means that Advent presents a message of social responsibility and communal accountability.
Tuesday, December 14, 2021
Imagine Advent, the Lord coming into our world and lives to give a message of social responsibility. (1) a religion / faith void of ethical and moral earnestness is exactly that, a void / "what shall we do?" (Luke 3:10) ask the seekers / Luke will tell us later that the first preaching of the church prompted many to ask, "what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). John's answers have to do with injustices and inequities of that society, which are continuous with Luke's convictions about the social implications of the gospel, the first glimpse in which we saw in the Magnificat (Mary's song of praise to the Lord). The Magnificat is a revolutionary song of salvation whose political, economic and social dimensions are clear. 
Listen to it in your hearing.
My soul magnifies the Lord / And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty. / He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy / Even as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity forever. Luke 1:46-55
Consider what Mary says about why she magnifies the Lord.
Wednesday, December 15, 2021
Firstly, we find an expression of compassionate consideration
for people  
10And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then11He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Luke 3:10-11
Compassion alludes to kindness and sympathy, but there is something deeper, something even more profoundly powerful, in its meaning. The origin of the word helps us grasp the true breadth and significance of compassion. In Latin, ‘compati’ means “suffer with.” Compassion means someone else’s heartbreak becomes your heartbreak. Another’s suffering becomes your suffering. True compassion changes the way we live. The Bible is saturated with compassion. It seeps through the pages of the Old Testament, pours out of the Gospels, and presents itself as a challenge to followers of Jesus. The Bible talks of a God who has compassion for Israel. It tells of a Savior who suffers for the world, and it asks us to live and act compassionately.
The definition of compassion is the ability to understand the emotional state of another person or oneself. Often confused with empathy, compassion has the added element of having a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another. Empathy, is the ability to put oneself in the other person's place. Although compassion and empathy are two separate things, having compassion for someone can lead to feeling empathy for another person.
Consider what it means to be compassionate with one another.  
Thursday, December 16, 2021
Secondly, do not take advantage of people

12Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do13And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. Luke 3:12-13
We have to think about Jesus and the disinherited as stated in the book, Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, "There are those who would reduce the plight of the disinherited to the realm of personal responsibility rather than corporate or communal abuse of privilege, power and prestige." 

The basic fact is that Christianity, as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker, appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. 

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them."
Howard Thurman
These social and economic concerns will be built into the agenda of the common life of the early church, (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35). Food and clothing are to be shared with people who have none; taxes are not to be calculated according to the greed of the people who are in power (take a moment now to read Luke19:1-10) and the military must stop victimizing the poor people under their occupation by constant threats, intimidation, and blackmail. The peasants of the land do not exist as sources for supplementing soldiers' pay. (Interpretation / A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching / Luke chapter 3, pages 48 and 49, Fred Craddock).

Consider what it means not to take advantage of people. 
Friday, December 17, 2021
Thirdly, do no harm
14And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely.
Luke 3:14
World Vision uses the "Do No Harm" approach (also known as "Local Capacities for Peace" or LCP) to integrate conflict-sensitivity wherever it is relevant. "Do No Harm" is a tool first developed by Mary Anderson and published by the organization CDA. World Vision is a founding member of the project that developed this tool.
Do No Harm (DNH) is now used widely by many aid organizations, including governments and multilateral organizations. World Vision is one of the most active organizations globally using the "Do No Harm" tool. DNH field assessments help understand conflict at a project or community level. When local leaders understand which activities divide or connect people, World Vision partners with them to design projects or programs to minimize harm and support local capacities to build peace.

As an important step in becoming a doctor, medical students must take the Hippocratic Oath. And one of the promises within that oath is “first, do no harm” (or “primum non nocere,” the Latin translation from the original Greek). Maybe an oath needs to be taken by those elected to office to first do no harm and maybe as part of being a responsible citizen we need to take an oath to be part of our pledge of allegiance.

Consider what it means to do no harm.  
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Luke’s account is clearly political. He cautions the reader against aligning with earthly rulers who use their power to lift up themselves rather than bringing up the lowly. Luke’s gospel presents the kingdom of God in stark contrast and opposition to the rulers of this world. John helps to usher in that proclamation. Which world order do we proclaim? Have we fallen into the lure of earthly power and reduced the kingdom of God into a side to root for, rather than an assignment to participate in the redemption of the Creator. Dr. Marvin McMickle challenges the church to be what she was birthed to be rather than cling to what makes her comfortable. People long to see the salvation of the Lord. Sadly, all that most churchgoers do is wait for God to do this work alone. Rather than using its resources and influence to help shape a just society, the church merely waits for the day to come. John calls upon the church to repent of its sins and then to challenge the world to do the same. Today, we must declare that same message of repentance as a first step on the road to becoming a just society, the beloved community, and to God’s reign in our midst.   

There is a song about a grown up Christmas list. 

So here's my lifelong wish,
my grown-up Christmas list,
not for myself, but for a world in need:
No more lives torn apart,
and wars would never start,
and time would heal all hearts.
Everyone would have a friend,
that right would always win,
and love would never end:
This is my grown-up Christmas list.
1. We are tossed and driven / on the restless sea of time; /
somber skies and howling tempests 
oft succeed a bright sunshine; / in that land of perfect day, /
when the mists are rolled away, we will understand it better by and by.
By and by, when the morning comes, / when the saints of God are gathered home,
we'll tell the story how we've overcome, / for we'll understand it better by and by.
2. We are often destitute / of the things that life demands, /
want of food and want of shelter, 
thirsty hills and barren lands; / we are trusting in the Lord, /
and according to God's word,
we will understand it better by and by. [Refrain]
3. Trials dark on every hand, / and we cannot understand /
all the ways of God would lead us 
to that blessed promised land; / but he guides us with his eye, /
and we'll follow till we die,
for we'll understand it better by and by. [Refrain]
4. Temptations, hidden snares / often take us unawares, /
and our hearts are made to bleed 
for a thoughtless word or deed; / and we wonder why the test /
when we try to do our best,
but we'll understand it better by and by. [Refrain]
Consider what it means to celebrate the birth of Christ in a tangible way that honors the essence of the legacy of redemption and salvation from the destruction we cause ourselves.  

My Grown Up Christmas List
~sung by Kelly Clarkson
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