Alex Zuber, Harrisonburg, VA
When did you have a real “wake-up call”?
Happy Advent, snake genus
Almost two years have passed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are tired and complacent as the global crisis lasts. But our challenges are not over; just this week, South African scientists identified a new variant, called “Omicron”. Addressing the nation, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “The emergence of the Omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that inequality in vaccines cannot be allowed to continue.”
While many are tired, President Ramaphosa is urging the world to wake up, seek justice and strengthen each other in the fight against this virus. The lack of access to the COVID vaccine will first affect the world’s poorest populations. Ramaphosa claims that the shutdown will only harm the physical and financial health of nations that are beginning to see the Omicron variant, many of which need support in the production of COVID-19 vaccines. This disparity in the distribution of vaccines will cost lives. Although inequality may not be on the COVID-19 symptom list, it can be just as deadly as the virus itself. It is easy to focus only on the physical symptoms of the disease. But after so much time, we may have to wake up to other crises of inequality and injustice that make this pandemic so deadly.
Questions for discussion
- Did you know about the inequality in the distribution of vaccines around the world?
- What other deadly challenges do you see with COVID-19 and who is most affected?
- How can you work for equity in access to health care in your community?
Third Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Isaiah 12: 2-6
Philippians 4: 4-7
Luke 3: 7-18
(Text links are to the Oremus Bible Browser. The Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The reading calendar for Year C can be found in Lectionary Readings.)
For lesson humor and insight, check out the weekly comic book Agnus Day.
We immediately see why Hallmark has a robust Christmas card industry, not Advent cards. “Happy Advent” snake genus may not sell well as a holiday greeting card, but these words are certainly a wake-up call for the audience of John the Baptist.
With this sudden start, it seems strange that the reading ends with “So, with many other tips, [John] announced the good news to the people. ” Which part of the snake litter is good news? Biblically speaking, to call someone a descendant of the insidious serpent of paradise is not a compliment. The blow is not mitigated by the following lines, which proclaim anger, condemnation and the people’s need for repentance. This is a powerful language, which aims to attract people’s attention and awaken them in their sinfulness and suffering in the world around them.
It is a miracle that John was such a popular preacher. He essentially begins his sermon with “SINS! Here’s how you made a mistake! ” Still, John catches our attention and then no doubt announces the good news. (It really works!) After this strange serpentine beginning, John presents God’s bold vision to the world. In this world, resources are shared, the rich are not predators, and the powerful are not forcibly coerced. The poor are exalted, and the powerful are humble and responsible with their means. This is good news!
The gospel criticizes power. The gospel turns the world upside down and raises the humble. We who hear this good news need to witness so that the gospel holds communities, individuals, and political forces accountable for God’s path of justice. the good news, or gospel, is a bold statement from the beginning. It has profound cultural, personal and political consequences that turn everything upside down.
And isn’t that exactly what John is doing? Those with property, tax collectors, soldiers, you and me … John doesn’t let us out easily. He asks great things from those who listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. John turns our egocentrism upside down.
This text may seem difficult and inappropriate. Here we are, in season hope and joy, waiting for Christmas. Today is even called “Gaudete Sunday” throughout the church, which means “Sunday of rejoicing”. Still, Advent is more than running until Christmas. John’s message calls us snakes and asks many of us. however this reading gives us reason to rejoice. Even as John gives us a challenging wake-up call, the good news is that there is good news – even for snakes.
Questions for discussion
- Has there ever been a situation in your life that woke you up in injustice? If so, share that story and describe what you did, why you did it, and what happened as a result.
- Have you ever felt challenged rather than comforted by the words of the Gospel? If so, share how that experience changed your perspective.
- John offers very clear guidelines to taxpayers and soldiers who talk to him. How do you think John the Baptist could offer you instruction regarding your repentance?
Suggestions for activities
Find a friend, neighbor, or member of your congregation and talk to them one-on-one about your concerns in your life or community. Practice “active listening”, where you summarize their statement with “I hear you say…” or “what I think you are saying is…”. Don’t comment on their thoughts, rather make sure they are heard and that you are aware of the needs around you.
Awaken us, Lord, for the needs of all around us. As we believe you hear the cries of our hearts, turn us away from our serpentine ways and awaken us from our complacency to serve you with thoughts, words, and deeds. Give us hearts full of joy, through Christ our Lord. Amen.