Sometimes there are no words.
Certainly no “magical” words.
So when our words fail…We turn to God’s word.
“I, [The Lord] will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.” - Zephaniah 3:18-20
Let us pray.
Father in heaven for Jesus sake, we thank you Lord for new life this morning, a precious gift which we do not take for granted, for grace sufficient for today, and for your promise to claim us always as your own.
Fill us again with hope; feed us with Love, that your abundance might flow from this place, and into a world in need.
This was not God’s intent.
As candlelight vigils replace Christmas lights down windy Connecticut lanes.
As parents, huddled in a firehouse, waited for their children to be returned; only to have those promises, made at the bus stop, broken.
As investigators pour through the life and times of a troubled young man.
This ought not to be.
We join the world asking:
And even as the Sheriff’s office offers the answer of the case; the questions for God remain.
As a parent of a four year-old, I want to know. How could you let this happen?
As a child of God, I want answers. Why did this happen?
Some theologians will jump to answer those questions for you. Give you an answer tied up with a Christmas bow.
I don’t have one of those answers for you this morning.
As a parent, I don’t know how.
As a child of God, I don’t know why.
Here’s what I do know.
God did not “need” another little angel in the sky. God does not purpose for us a tragic end.
This is not a test to see how strong some father’s faith was.
Or the result of a mother’s lack of prayer.
Let’s be clear.
And as we believe and confess in the power of the Holy Spirit, in our baptism we also
Acknowledge and renounce
The power of sin and evil in the world.
This is not to demonize the perpetrator of this weekend’s horrific crime, or any person; but to call out the act itself.
The power of sin is loose in the world, and we, are witnesses of its most horrendous results.
And God is big enough for our questions…for our anger…for our cries…
With the saints we gather at the river this morning as John continues to cry out;
a story we began together last week.
In Luke, John is not painted as he is in the other Gospels with the camel haired cloak and the snack bag of locusts and wild honey. Despite the lack of diet details, we no less understand John is speaking from the wilderness.
John too was speaking to a world in darkness.
Within the Roman Empire the life of a Jewish citizen was anything but easy.
Work was hard if you had it. Poverty was high.
Bands of Roman soldiers often came raiding through Judean towns. Older boys and men were often taken away against their will to serve the empire.
The Political and religious systems worked against the vulnerable, the orphaned, the widow.
In this setting; amongst the whole crowd John calls out:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath that is to come?”
Now, just a side note here: this is where I know that John was never a settled parish pastor: I’m not sure that I would get away with this line as my opener, and then expect my hearers to continue to listen, let alone follow; but John is able to get away with it!
And in this Gospel writer’s account – the words aren’t spoken to a specific group (like the Pharisees or Sadducees) but appears to be speaking to everyone.
And I have to admit.
Sometimes lately, it feels like we live in a pit of snakes.
Sandy Hook is not the first.
8 others like it just this year: a shopping mall last week, a Temple in August, a movie theater in July.
Add to that the daily violence on our city streets.
Sometimes it feels like we’re snake bitten. Where will the next attack come?
But in John’s call…
As he invites the crowd gathered to turn and face God;
to come and see the indwelling; in-breaking; incarnation moment of the creator of all;
The people respond.
What then shall we do?
It’s the question of faith.
We who have heard the word…
We who have received the grace…
We who have been fed at the table of life…
What then, shall we do?
This is not, what shall we do to get right with God; this is
How shall I LIVE this life with God?!
Have two coats?
Give one away?
Others began to ask…
Soldiers…What shall we do? Do justice, love mercy.
Tax Collectors…What shall we do? Do justice, don’t take more than you are required (they worked like the mob – shaking down citizens for money in lieu of protection).
Merchants…What should we do? Treat customers fairly.
Teachers…What should we do? Teach your students to care for themselves and others.
Parents…What should we do? Love your children and teach them well.
And here’s the thing…watch this now…
As John points us in the direction of living our lives answering this question of faith…
What does Jesus say?
“Every time you do it to one of these, the least of my family, you do it unto me.”
Every time you care for another, you care for me.
I may not be able to tell you why.
But I can tell you where God was on Friday.
God was right there.
God was there in the form of Principal Dawn Hochsprung who dove toward the one who would take her life as she sought to protect those under her care.
God was there in the form of Victoria Soto, a 27 year old teacher who put herself between her children and harm’s way. She was found with her body huddled over her children. She gave up her life, that they might live.
God was there in the form of parents, as tight embraces in reunion tried to erase the unimaginable.
And God was there…in those children…yes in the ones who lived, and yes,
Christ was there; in the children and the adults who died.
Christ was there. Holding them. Loving them.
As John points us to the light by encouraging us to give ourselves away for the sake of the world,
In those we serve, those we comfort, those we care for, we find Christ present.
And John was urgent in this message.
We too, must be urgent with our message of Grace.
We bring light to the world.
We bring hope to the world!
We are those who have a hand to offer; time to comfort; a word to save.
John was calling on the people of his day to go public with this faith –
To share this light.
We are that light; in the midst of the darkness of the world.
That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.