What Then Should We Do?

Sermon Preached on December 16, 2012
Third Sunday in Advent, Year C
After the shootings in Newtown, CT

Since Friday morning, I’ve had a heavy heart when I heard about the school shootings in Connecticut. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. As I sat around a table with colleagues and opened my computer to see the headlines, my heart sank and my anger rose. As my colleagues and I processed what we were reading and seeing we all questioned… how… why…what next? No answers came. Only more questions, and tears, and stories. Those of us who have children reflected on the fact it could have been any of our children. We wondered…how do we respond? So we prayed. We cried. We prayed some more.

Those of us preaching today knew we had to scrap our sermons and write something different. Yet, for most of the last 48 hours, I have been without words. There have been tears, and hugs, and praying, but no words were coming. So, I began again. Starting over by reading the scripture in prayer, holding God’s word in my heavy heart.

As I prayed and meditated, I started to find other people’s words…like the words from a saint we all grew up with, Mr. Rogers. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” He said, “To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” I, myself, have told my son the same thing, and countless campers, and children and teenagers that were in my care. If you are lost or in danger, if anything happens, look for help and know my phone number. So there was the first word I could find. Helpers.

The Rev. Kathleen Shepherd, rector of Trinity Church in Newtown, CT said at a vigil on Friday night, “God was in the acts of love and bravery today.” And these were the second words I could find. Love and bravery.

And then I read the scriptures and the collect for today again. John the Baptist is preaching again to the crowd, telling them to repent and get ready for the one who is coming. Repentance is a word we are familiar with, but for John the Baptist, it is more than just saying that you are sorry. Repentance is not merely looking back and asking for forgiveness of those things we have done wrong, but repentance also means realizing what the future could be. It means asking the same question that the crowds asked, “What then should we do?” The third set of words I could find to wrap my mind around this mess. “What then should we do?”

So I found three sets of words: Helpers. Love and bravery. What then should we do?

John the Baptist, when asked, “what then should we do,” responds to the crowd telling them to help those around them by giving them coats or food. He tells the tax collectors, who make their living from overcharging people, to only charge them their proper amount. He tells the soldiers that they are to only do their jobs and not to take bribes. John is telling them to change things that are doable and practical. He is telling them to change the way that they live so they can help others, because in helping others and changing the world around them in these acts, they will be ready for Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Being a part of the people of God does not mean that we get to sit back and relax, or live life as usual, or enjoy the ride, or let other people figure out the answers as they work to solve the problems. Being a part of the people of God means we share what we have, giving clothing and food to those who need it. It means we are honest with those we have to deal with and that we do our job to keep people safe. God is in our midst and we have to act.

When tragedy happens, people often ask, where was God during this horrible event? Why did God allow this to happen? God doesn’t allow bad things to happen. God was there with the helpers, in love, helping them to be brave and heroic, and God was there, weeping with them.

This season of Advent that we are in can be a difficult one. It is one of holding the tension between what is and what we know is coming. This Sunday is deemed “Joy” Sunday in this season of Advent, yet we have a Gospel about repentance. Advent invites us to hold many things in tension, joy, waiting, expectation, hope, love, wonder, repentance, and being ready and it is in all of these things that we find God.

One of my favorite writers Anne Lamont says, “Advent is not for the naïve. Because in spite of the dark and cold, we see light—you look up, or you make light, with candles, trees. And you give light. Beauty helps, in art and nature and faces. Friends help. Solidarity helps. If you ask me, when people return phone calls, it’s about as good as it gets. And who knows beyond that.”

She says, “Advent says that there is a way out of this trap—that we embrace our humanity, and Jesus’s humanity, and then we remember that he is wrapped up in God. It’s good to know where to find Jesus—in the least of these–among the broken, the very poor and marginalized. Jesus says, ‘You want to see me? Look there.’”

Anne Lamont reminds us that in this season when the darkness of night is so long, it can be difficult to find the light, until you look up and see what is around you, until you light a candle and take the first step into the darkness in order to find your way. Until you look to the helpers and the brave and the everyday people who spread light in the world. That is where we can find light in the darkness, where we can see hope, and where we can know what we need to do. God is in our midst and we need to act. We pray. Get involved. Console people who are hurting. Share what we have. Be honest. Be the light. Take a step forward.

It is up to each of us individually and as a community to answer the question that John the Baptist faced today, “What then should we do?” What is God calling you to do as a helper, as a person of love, as a brave soul, as a person of God? This is not an easy question, and it does not have an easy answer, so I leave us in prayer with our collect for today. As I pray it again, I invite you to ask yourself, “what then shall I do?”

Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

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