3 Advent, December 16
“John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with fire.’ So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people” (Luke 3:16-18).
The Holy Spirit burns and strips away the chaff of a false and narrow life. The Holy Spirit is the heat that expands life and breaks the husk of sin, opening the self to new life in Christ. In the triune life of God, the Holy Spirit is the begetting love of the Father and the responsive love of the Son, an exchange that is natural and never ends. In the life of a sinner and in the life of the Church, however, the Holy Spirit causes the pain of becoming a son or daughter of God. Sin, the flesh, and the devil are being torn away.
Jesus, the Son of God, is good news to the people. The invitation to be a child of God by adoption and grace is the best news we will ever hear. Yes, there is fire to feel and a winnowing fork to separate, but the newly baptized emerge as beautiful new beings in Christ. The pulpit and pews are a fitting place to feel this beauty, to sense the emergence of a new being, to know the abounding hope and joy of life in Christ.
Will a serious preacher show such hope, permit such joy, and announce the newness of life in Christ? Does the preacher gravitate to illustrations in extremis of holocaust and genocide, graphic depravity and the depths of evil, or, when speaking of redemptive action, is the preacher overly committed to heroic examples of sacrifice and suffering? Is the preacher bereft of gospel joy and baptismal beauty? Are the pews solemn and always silent, a bench of boredom and weariness?
Consider Alma Deutscher, an astounding musician and composer at age 12, as she responds to a few critics:
“Some people have told me that I compose in the musical language of the past, and this is not allowed in the 21st century. In the past, it was possible to compose beautiful melodies and beautiful music, but today, they say, I’m not allowed to compose like this anymore because I need to discover the ‘complexity’ of the modern world, and the point of music is to show the ‘complexity’ of the world.
“Well, let me tell you a huge secret. I already know that the world is complex and can be very ugly, but I think these people have gotten a little bit confused. If the world is so ugly, what’s the point in making it even uglier with ugly music? … But I think most people go to concerts because they want to hear beautiful music, music full of melody that you can hum or sing, music that speaks to the heart, music that makes you want to smile or cry or dance. There’s enough ugliness in the world. I want to write beautiful music, music that makes the world a better place.” —“Why music should be beautiful,” YouTube, Feb. 21, 2017.
Preaching is permission to rejoice and exult, to sing and feel gladness, to feel safe and gathered in love, to rejoice and give thanks for new life in Christ. Preaching is praise. Good preaching is, God being our helper, beautiful, and it makes the world a better place.
Look It Up
Read Zephaniah 3:14.
Think About It
Love God with all your heart.