Benediction Online

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent 3 The One who is to Come is More Powerful
Luke 3:7-18

The first battle of the Civil War, after Fort Sumter, took place at Bull Run in Manassas just outside Washington DC. There was so little understanding of what was involved that people from the city came out in their carriages to watch. It was a diversion, an entertainment. I imagine that John the Baptizer was a bit like that in his time. This wild man ranting and raving and preaching up a storm in the desert became Sunday afternoon entertainment for the wealthy of Jerusalem and surrounds.

It was pretty exciting stuff but not, it would seem, overwhelmingly positive. To our ears the final sentence of the Gospel reading sounds almost ironic. John has just thundered at the good folk of Jerusalem that they are a brood of vipers, that there is wrath to come, that the Messiah is coming with his winnowing fork and will thresh the wheat and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. And then Luke tells us, ‘with many other exhortations, he preached the good news to the people’.

Doesn’t it seem a tad short on good news?

Perhaps Luke didn’t feel he needed to spell it out to his readers, it was so self-evident. I’m always trying to understand better what they meant by the good news and what it truly means for us today. I think in this passage, the good news is primarily contained in the phrase ‘one who is more powerful than I is coming.’ And that is good news indeed. One who is more powerful.

Most of the conflicts that consume us are about power. Who has the power to make the decisions? Who has the power to call the shots, to do things their way? The ongoing dispute in Los Osos these many years is primarily about power – the power to decide how we treat our wastewater and where to do it. Arguments we get into in the church are often about power – who has the power to decide what we do or how we do something and who has the power to get to done, or to prevent it happening.

One who is more powerful is coming. One who is more powerful than all our government, boards, committees and vestries. One who is more powerful than any human institution. The one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, who will gather the great harvest and separate the valuable wheat from the straw and the chaff. All human power struggles pale into total insignificance in comparison with the power of the one who is coming.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!

Yet the power of the one we call Messiah, the power of Jesus was totally unexpected. He didn’t raise up a military force or a political party and wrest control away from the authorities. When tempted to use his power to gain instant fame, instant glory, Jesus declined. Faced with human power in the form of Pontius Pilate he did not use his divine power over Pontius Pilate. In his earthly life, Jesus did not use power to gain an advantage over anyone else.

Jesus’ power was different. It was not a power over but a power from within. A power that was able to heal the sick, cast out demons and bring new life. A power that didn’t fight back but brought transformation from within.

As the followers of Christ we get to look at our own use of power. There are those who resonate with the Messiah who has his winnowing fork in his hand, who is coming to clear the threshing floor and get rid of the chaff; the almighty harvester who will trample through the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are stored. This understanding of the power of the Christ leads to violence and to war. It leads to video games like which follows on from the popular Left Behind series and invites teen players to engage in battle with the antichrist and its forces. The makers deny that it invites killing in the name of the Lord but admit that it does include killing – after all it’s a video game.

Although the cosmic Christ is the all powerful and though the scriptures are full of descriptions of God the warrior who gives victory, that is not what we see in the way Jesus lived his life. That is not what we see in his confrontations with the powers and authorities of his own age. We see someone who was so confident in his own inner strength through his connection with God that he did not need to engage in power struggles.

How do we use power in our own lives? Do we use it to try to get our own way, to try to make things turn out just how we want them? Do we engage in confrontations with others, at least in the privacy of our own heads? Or do we trust in the power of the one who is coming? Have we found in ourselves that place of quiet confidence that allows us to know that in God all is well?

It is from that place of quiet confidence that we can show the fruits of repentance that John describes. We can risk giving away what we think we need. Like the tax-collectors and soldiers of his day, we can learn to be comfortable with what we have and not try to get more by forcing others to give to us. For most of us it’s rather subtle; we don’t exhort money by threats or false accusations, but sometimes we use our power through gossip or anger or white lies, to get what we want.

The fruit of repentance, the heart of holiness, is a quiet confidence. A knowing that all is well, that the one who is more powerful is not only coming in the future, but has already come and has our well-being at heart. This is not the bravado of Washington society taking their carriages out into the country to see the battle, but a deeply grounded confidence that all is well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.


Post a Comment

<< Home