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Gospel: Luke 3:7-18

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”   10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”   15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John 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 you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His 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 unquenchable fire.”   18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Hundreds of years ago, some people decided that they wanted to have a Sunday before Christmas that was penitential (a day to look inward at one's life) before the Messiah comes. But they also wanted Joy because it's so hard to contain yourself with all the excitement that goes into getting ready for Christmas.

So, whoever it was, decided that the 3rd Sunday of Advent would be called Gaudete - Rejoice Sunday - a day all about rejoicing! So in our readings today, Zephaniah says, "Rejoice and exult with all your heart!"

And St. Paul tells us today "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!"

It is a joy-filled Sunday and I don't know who picked these readings but the third one just doesn't seem to match does it?

"You brood of vipers!" Now, that doesn't sound like rejoicing to me! Good ol' John the Baptist - he's something else! "Bear fruits worthy of repentance."

But then listen to the last line of the gospel: "And so with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people."

Repent! How in the WORLD can that be good news to the people? Here's where the penitential part of this Sunday comes in: Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Repentance, which means to turn your back on something, change your direction. Repent.

People were coming to John to be baptized and I'm sure he gave them an ear full!

He says, "you come to be baptized thinking this water is going to do the trick and you think this is going to remove sin from you just like the removal of dirt like when you wash yourself and take a bath?

Well, I want to tell you something about that! That's not all there is to it - what you've got to do is turn around. Turn your back on sin. Repent!”

John says the baptism he gives is not something magical. It is a sign that you are going to turn your life around and start living opposite from the sin that's been in your life. Turn your back on sin and act out your holy life.

John says, "The Messiah is coming, and I'm telling you how to get ready! Repent!”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, says John the Baptist and Jesus himself, you cannot find peace or joy or anything else holding onto sin in your life. It will not happen, and you cannot experience the full meaning of God's forgiveness that he has already given you.

Maybe there's a place in your life - some roadblock in your relationship with God or with others (OR BOTH) washed away, removed, turned away from, avoided, even put to death.

Repent! And then . . .

Come and hold onto the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all mind and with all your strength.

Come to the manger once again, and see the one for whom the angels sing and all of heaven rejoices, the newborn king.

Come and see the one who comes to live and to die and rise again. and put your hands around the cross of Jesus.

Come and know the gift of forgiveness and new life for in HIM you will find joy.

For that is what Advent is all about.

Let us pray: Almighty God, we thank you for John the Baptist, who made a right path for the coming of your Son. May we prepare our hearts and homes for his coming once again. Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

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