Fruit of the Kingdom

It’s hard, but don’t get distracted by John the Baptism crying out, “You brood of vipers…” I know it’s hard because when I first read the scriptures set for this Sunday. I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Why do we always have to preach on John the Baptist two weeks before Christmas?” This close to Christmas we don’t know want to hear about sin and repentance or a man in the wilderness crying out, “You brood of vipers.” Especially on this third Sunday of Advent which is Joy Sunday. I was going to change the readings set for today and find something that seemed in keeping with Joy. 

            But I reconsidered. John the Baptist is the one who points the way to Jesus. He is the prophetic voice in the wilderness who points us in the direction of good news. Everything he is saying can’t be bad news. That means we must dig a little deeper. Repentance literally means a change direction. And couldn’t our world and even our own lives use a little change in direction? 

There are so many things right now that are frightening in our world. How many of you heard about the 7 year old refugee who died of dehydration while in the custody of US immigration. How is this possible? How is it possible in this world where so many have so much that there are people who do without? Who don’t have food or shelter or a safe place to live? Rachel Held Evans in her blog post on the Magnificat, which we read this morning, sums it up so well. “When sung in a warm, candlelit church at Advent, it can be easy to blunt these words, to imagine them as symbolic, non-specific, comforting.

But I’m not feeling sentimental this Advent. I’m feeling angry, restless. 

And so in this season, I hear Mary’s Magnificat shouted, not sung: 

In the halls of the Capitol Building…. 

"He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

In the corridors of the West Wing… 

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” …

With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces a birth, she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom—past, present, and future—that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve “greatness.” With the Magnificat, Mary declares that God has indeed chosen sides.And it’s not with the powerful, but the humble.” (

This is the heart of John’s message to us. Repentance means a change in direction for our lives and our world. John isn’t preaching bad news and that is why the crowds came from far and near. They were looking for something. Hope? Joy? A new way of living in the world? Many of the people who made the journey to the world wilderness for the baptism of repentance were poor. There were also soldiers and tax collectors in the crowd. John invites them all to begin the journey by “bear[ing] fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8) John’s advice to us on turning our lives around, changing directions is remarkably simple. It’s something we can all do. 

            Listen to what John says, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11) Not so hard really. Isn’t what we all learned from our parents and at school? Share what you have with others. Now the tax collectors in the crowd are thinking, well what do I need to do to bear fruit worthy of repentance. John says to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” (Luke 3:13) In other words don’t cheat or lie so you can pocket the extra money. Notice what John doesn’t say. He doesn’t tell them to stop doing their job or collecting money for Rome. He says don’t cheat. Do your job with integrity. Now the soldiers want to know what they must do. John says to them, “Do not exhort money from anyone by threats or false accusations, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:14) So really don’t threaten people and be happy with what you have. 

            Bearing fruit worthy of repentance can change our world. Imagine what our lives and world would look like if all did what John said – share what we have; don’t cheat; don’t threaten people and be happy with what you have. I’m not going to tell you that this is always easy but it is something we can all do. Any change in direction and turning around will have its challenges. But we never do these things alone. God is with us. 

            John, even with his harsh words, points us to the good news that is coming to us on Christmas Eve. John’s words echo Mary’s words, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. His Mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. … he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, an sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46 – 47, 50, 52 – 53)

As we get ready for the joy of Christmas and the birth of the child who changes everything, we too can point the way to a world remade in God way. That is good news for us all. Amen. 


Today the countdown to Christmas begins. It is busy season in so many ways for people. We come to the place ready for some quiet and renewal for our souls and for the first Sunday of Advent we have two challenging readings. At first glance it seems that our readings are have completely different messages. Our reading from Luke sounds ominous and scary.“‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25 -28)

It doesn’t sound anything like Christmas. It doesn’t sound like hope and it is certainly different than our reading from Jeremiah which says, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lordis our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:15 – 16)The reading from Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, was written during the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah is being held hostage. What reason does he have to hope? And yet, he knows that they will be saved by that righteous branch that will rise up and execute justice.

It seems to me that we need both of these messages today. Things our world can sometimes seem like the passage from Luke – a bit scary.  Whether it is ever increase levels of carbon monoxide which is destroying habitat and changing our weather or the divisive rhetoric that is makes up our political landscape or the fact that hate crimes are on the rise. 

Dr. David Lose says that the root of all our troubles is fear. “Think about it. From Pharaoh in the first chapter of Exodus (v. 8-10) to today’s despots, fear is the means by which we turn those who are in some fashion different from us into an enemy, a people against whom we should war. Fear causes us to horde, assuming we will never have enough and seeing those around us as competitors for scarce resources. Fear drives wedges of distrust into our communities that fracture solidarity and compassion. Fear causes us to define ourselves and those around us not by what we share but by what makes us different. …Fear, in short, drives us inward, hardens our hearts, darkens our vision, and stunts our imagination.” (

So how do we live? How do we set that fear aside and live in hope? The bible shows us the way – angels and prophets alike tell us, “Do not be afraid.”  Jesus invites to live in hope. After the people faint from tear and foreboding of what is coming, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up, and raise your heads, because your redemption is downing.” (Luke 21:28) 

There are signs of people standing up and raising their heads. On October 26that 1:30pm the service started at Bethel Church in The Hague and hasn’t stopped – not for one minute. All to protect an Armenian family whose asylum claim was denied. “The Tamrazyan family, including three children Hayarpi, Warduhi and Seyran, fled Armenia and have been living in the Netherlands since April 2010 while their claim for political asylum was being decided. But their case was rejected, and they've now been told to leave the country.” congregation offered sanctuary to the family of five in order to protect the well-being of the children. Dutch law says that as long as the worship service is going on the police cannot not disrupt the service. “Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers in the Netherlands, told CNN the service will continue "as long as it's necessary.""We want to love God and our neighbor. And we thought that this was a clear opportunity to put the love for our neighbor into reality," he said.

            Volunteers and clergy step in to lead the continuous service around the clock. Groups, choirs, and clergy from all across the Netherlands come to take their turn leading the service. One of the children, Hayarpi Tamrazyan who is 21 writes this of her faith and her experience of living in sanctuary: 

In these difficult times
Of darkness and grief
I lift up my head
And feel Your love in my heart.

In these difficult times
Of desperation, of anger
I lift up my hands
And praise You in my heart

In these difficult times
While I seem to be paralysed
I feel Your peace in my soul
And open my eyes to see Your grace…

No power and no devil
No grief and fear
Can separate You from me

I surrender myself
Let Your will be done
Your work is unimaginable
Your ways are in the light
How happily I walk with You
The Light of the world
The world… doomed and dead
But risen and renewed with You

My words fail
No words, no sentences
Can describe Your love
How thankful am I
How jubilant am I
While I am so tired
Hallelujah    Amen


 And here we find hope and the promise of a world made in God’s image. For now, we live in the in between times. Between that which was – the angels proclaiming the joyful birth of the one called “Emmanuel – God with us” and for that which will be – God’s coming reign of peace. In this in between time, we take courage from those stories of hope, stories of people who refuse to give into fear as we work for a better world. How shall we live? We live with God’s promise in one hand and hope in the other and that makes all the difference. Amen

God Comes Near

We started our service today with the hauntingly beautiful Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It’s the first hymn in the hymn book. It is a hymn of longing, of hoping, of praying for the time when God comes near. Emmanuel means “God with us” The church has been singing this hymn for centuries “The antiphons, sometimes called the ‘O antiphons’ or ‘The Great O’s’, were designated to concentrate the mind on the coming Christmas, enriching the meaning of the Incarnation with a complex series of references from the Old and New Testaments.” Each antiphon begins as follows:

O Sapentia (Wisdom)
O Adonai (Hebrew word for God)
O Radix Jesse (stem or root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (key of David)
O Oriens (dayspring)
O Rex genitium (King of the Gentiles)
O Emmanuel

Put together, the first letter of the second word of each antiphon spells SARCORE. If read backwards, the letters form a two-word acrostic, “Ero cras,” meaning “I will be present tomorrow.”

            Advent is the time of getting ready and preparing the day when God comes near. The Mark reading set for the first Sunday of Advent is a bit scary sounding. Certainly not what you expect for a day of celebration. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with God coming near or the promise that God is with us. Mark writes, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13:24 – 27) It doesn’t sound like we are waiting for something good. It sounds scary – maybe like the childhood story of Henny Penney and the sky falling.

            Mark’s “little apocalypse” may sound daunting but he is not talking about the end of the world in the traditional sense of apocalyptic literature. Mark is writing at the time of the destruction of the temple. The temple was the centre not only of worship but of their economic and community life. The destruction was an ending of something that was central to who they were as a people. Karoline Lewis writes, “At the heart of apocalyptic literature is encouragement and hope. To some extent, this is Jesus at his pastoral best. That which looks like devastation and defeat will be God's victory. Out of the theological turmoil and confusion surrounding the destruction of the temple will be a new presence of God. Out of the suffering and death of their Messiah will be new life. God's new way of being in the world will turn a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.”

            At the heart of this season of waiting, is a hope that cannot and will not be dimmed. During the year and a half that we worshipped at the Seventh-day Adventist, we did so trusting that God was and is here with us on the journey. Those moments when it was hard and we had to learn how to be and do church in news ways, also reminded that together with God’s help so much possible. There was an abundance of God’s grace at every turn in the road.

            Today we celebrate our return home. We celebrate all those times when God drew near. The moments when we found hope when it seemed like there was no reason to hope. Those moments when we did not know which path to take and God guided us. It has been and will continue to be remarkable journey marked by God’s guiding spirit.

We do not know what the road ahead holds for us as a community but we trust in our God’s enduring presence to show us the way. God’s Spirit is with us as we begin the next part of our journey as God’s people. In the words of our hymn, “O come, O Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind … Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” (Voices United, #1)