Advent 3B


Voice in the Wilderness: Nicole Cox

Featured Musician:Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker


Tasty Wafer: TNS 5-4 with Chris Heuertz!

Featured Musician:Heatherlyn

Tasty Wafer: 

Exegetical Notes

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Initial Thoughts

  • Still no birth story

  • Star Wars...the light and the darkness - ancient themes reaching far back before the Gospel of John and even raised up today

    • Be careful when demonizing “the dark”

  • Not anti-Jewish

  • what to do with verses 9-18? The lectionary focuses on John. Verses 9-18 are focused on Jesus. Depends on what you want your focus to be- I think you could easily go either way on this one, but be careful you don’t try to fit too many sermons in one.

  • John has been regulated to Advent and Jesus has been regulated to Christmas. both have a place in each season - do not pigeonhole John in Advent or cut Jesus out entirely

Bible Study

  • Separated John from Jesus (this was a major issue for the early church)

    • Both preached about the coming Kingdom

    • Both preached about repentance

    • Both were killed by the political authorities

  • v. 6-8: Connects the prologue of John (and the eternal pre-existence of Jesus as the Word) with Jesus as the Word made flesh (v.14)

    • Contrast vs 14 with v. 6

    • Jesus = Word made flesh

    • John = man sent from God

  • v. 19-28: Reflecting on John’s testimony

    • John’s testimony is vs. 9-18

    • John is not Jesus, John is not the Messiah, a prophet or Elijah - John IS the voice.

      • Before Jesus says “I am…”, John is saying “I am not”

    • John is always pointing to Jesus, to the light

    • John knows who he is and who he isn’t - this is an important lesson for pastors or people who are trying to be everything to everyone

    • John is not the baptist here but the witness

  • Advent Pageant (Barbara Brown Taylor)

    • One man show - John (who isn’t even baptizing or saying much of anything in this Gospel)

    • John has nothing but himself and his witness

    • Meister Eckhart, “God is found in the soul not by adding anything but by subtracting.” (Quoted by BBT in Feasting on the Word)

Preaching Thoughts

  • Are we called to be Christ or to be John? Are we to be the light of the world- allowing the divinity within us to transforming those around us or are we called to point to the light of Christ when we see it at work around us? Why not both?

  • What does it mean to be a voice preparing the way of the Lord? How do we testify to God enfleshed among us? If we are the body of Christ, then are we not also the Word become flesh? Can we see and proclaim the presence of the divine in one another?

  • In Jesus is true (or eternal) life - see verse 4. John is testifying to what it means to live in the light of Christ. How do we witness to our transformation in the light - see 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 (or just look below in the show notes). Be the Christ in Christmas - let the light shine through you

  • John is the witness - what does it mean to witness to the Light?

  • How to give a personal first hand account of an experience of the Divine (Jan Schnell Rippentrop on quoting Marshall Ganz)

    • Ganz’s Testimony Framework--Translation for Christian assembly

    • the story of self -- what God has done with me/how I have known God

    • the story of us -- what God does with us/how we have known God

    • the story of now -- what God is up to now

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Initial Thoughts

  • Isaiah 61:5-7 admittedly puzzling portion of this passage.

    • Describes a situation where the tables are turned. The Israelites, who had been the foreign people in a foreign land, would now rule over those who had ruled over them.

    • Feels a little like retribution, which is an ugly side of what the prophet is talking about - and seems to contradict verse 8’s call for justice.

    • This is one of those occasions where the sanitizing of the scripture by the Lectionary is probably okay - these two verse can lead to a pretty long wormhole.

Bible Study

  • Context of Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56-66)

    • “The general setting for Trito-Isaiah is Jerusalem and the community described by Haggai and Zechariah, that is, about twenty years after the latest part of Deutero-Isaiah and perhaps even later; in 60:13 the temple has been built and it is only necessary to adorn it. However, the situation in the country has certainly not improved; it remains critical because of the high incidence of crime in some areas and of incompetence in others, the immediate result of which is that the righteous suffer. For this reason God has shown judgment by continually postponing the fulfillment of his promises.” (J. Alberto Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 393)

    • “Those who returned to Zion sadly did not experience the fulfillment of Second Isaiah’s brilliant promises of prosperity and peace and joy… What happened to the brilliant promise of light proclaimed to the exiles by Second Isaiah? Are we dealing with failed prophecy? Is Second Isaiah’s taunting of the gods of other nations coming back to haunt Israel? The answer to that question depends on how one understands biblical prophecy…. It is misleading, however, to identify the truth of those pronouncements with a mechanistic unfolding of the details contained within the threats and promises, for this is to trivialize the office of prophet. The prophet did not locate the essence of their calling in providing clairvoyant abilities but in fostering obedience to God’s covenant among the people.” (Paul Hanson, Interpretation: Isaiah 40-66, p. 187))

  • Recalls Isaiah 42:1 “But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit upon him, he will bring justice to the nations.”

    • This is near the beginning of 2nd Isaiah, after God allows that other gods to present their case. The raising of The Servant is an important theme in Isaiah (one that gets picked up by early followers of Christ)

    • “By applying the words to describe the Servant of the Lord in 42:1 to a new time and situation, some person or group here seems to be claiming the inheritance of the office of that important figure in Second Isaiah’s prophecy. We noted in commenting on the our Servant Songs the presence of considerable ambiguity regarding the figure of the Servant, both as to identity and to whether reference was to an individual or community, We concluded that the ambiguity was intentional and that the Servant was set forth as a model for both the individual and the community that in faith and obedience accepted the calling to be agents of God’s reign of compassionate righteousness.

    • The “me” is intentionally ambiguous.

    • Foreshadows Jesus’ words in Luke 4. In his first public appearance, he reads this passage from the Isaiah scroll. Declares that “today this Scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

      • Everyone laughs because this is his first sermon, and people want to throw Jesus off a cliff afterwards, but the crowd doesn’t get angry with him reading and saying this. They get angry when he reminds them that the good news is for others, and not just for them.

  • The messiah will:

    • Comprehensive list

      • Good news to poor

      • Healing of brokenhearted

      • Release for captives

      • Year of the Lord

        • Forgiveness of debts

        • Freedom from slavery

      • Vindication of God

      • Comfort to those that mourn

      • Sustenance to Zion

      • Crowns replace ashes - Glory replaces mourning

      • Joy replaces mourning

      • Praise instead of discouragement

    • All of these things are still timely.

    • Shift from what “he has sent ME to do…” to what “They” will do in verse 3.

      • They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord.

      • They will rebuild the ancient ruins

      • They will restore formerly deserted places

      • They will renew ruined cities.

    • Who is the they? It is the restored people in verses 1-3.

    • “Those workers, the ‘they’ of v. 4, are the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn. That is, the subjects and agents of teh promised rebuilding are those who have been defeated.” (Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 22).

    • The THEY who will rebuild are the same ones who were defeated. This is a communal transformation. People will take part in their own restoration.

      • This should tell us a little about charity. It is one thing to bandage wounds. It is another to work with people who can be a part of their own transformation. Be willing to take the risks of partnership, and relinquish power of privilege.

    • Restoration of the people, the cities, the Temple, and God are all connected. There is no compartmentalizing.

Preaching Thoughts

  • The context of this passage is apparent broken promises and disappointment. The people thought that the end of the exile would bring prosperity and a new day. Yet this hasn’t happened. There is a deep struggle over rebuilding the Temple, rebuilding the city walls, and providing for all the people. There is continued upheaval and crime. Regardless of who is to blame - civil leaders, religious leaders, or outside forces - the situation that was promised seems to be far off. Does this sound familiar? We gather in Advent in the midst of broken promises and disappointment.

    • Personal - the relative/friend who let you down, the bleak prognosis, struggling finances, the new marriage that just isn’t working…

    • Corporate - political party, government, job - almost always fails.

    • Spiritual - When is Jesus actually coming? How long must we wait?

  • The “me” is intentionally ambiguous. Is the ‘me’ Isaiah? Is the ‘me’ the Messiah? Is the ‘me’ Jesus? Is the ‘me’ anyone who has fought for justice? Is the ‘me’ me? The answer to all of these questions is “YES.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Initial Thoughts

  • Great stuff for Joy Sunday - Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice.”  

    • Gaudete Sunday was designed to be a pause from the penitence of the rest of Advent.  While the rest of Advent was for prayer, fasting, and penitence, Gaudete Sunday was a reprieve to celebrate the joy of redemption.

Bible Study

  • Oldest Text in the New Testament (ca 51) Undisputed Paul.

    • In 1 Thes 4, Paul asserts that the coming of the Lord is near.  Like many Pauline epistles, this is dealing with the fact that the coming of Christ has been delayed.  So the question remains: “How shall we live?”

    • Very early in the church, so it is not thoroughly developed theologically as some other letters.  Most of the letter deals questions about those who die before Christ comes again, and how to live in a time of expectancy.

  • Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks to God in everything

    • There is no time to pause from rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.  

    • Proclaims a total shift in attitude, lifestyle, and mindset - not just a schedule for the day.

    • Provides a way to wait - Active waiting that is not just about passing the time until Christ comes, but includes an actively countercultural way to live.  

    • These are the marks of the Christian community.  The ability to rejoice, pray, and give thanks marks not only the life of the followers, but also forms the model for worship as a community.  It is both a personal way of life and a model for how to be the Church.

    • The sign that the Holy Spirit is with the people is in their ability to live joyfully, pray, and give thanks, as seen in the breaking of the bread and sharing the love feast.

  • Sanctification

    • Wesley Alert: Sanctification is one of Wesley’s three facets of grace. It is the grace that moves us “onward to perfection.”  It is the grace that moves us toward generosity, kindness, and peace.

    • v. 22 “Avoid every kind of evil” or “Abstain from every form of evil” has been used to justify legalism.  This is part of the basis for historic abstention from cards, dancing, drinking, movies, and all sorts of other things.  

    • Daniel Wallace concludes that despite this traditional understanding of the text, that Christians should have a “ robust faith and a life of enjoyment of God and of the good gifts he bestows on us.  In conclusion, 1 Thess 5:22 is apparently talking about staying away from false teaching and has nothing to do with lifestyle per se.“

      • The reminder to “do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything, hold fast to what is good,” sounds like a word of encouragement to a people hearing many messages.

      • In a cacophony of false teaching, it is important to use the Holy Spirit to discern what is true.

      • Suggests that there were many preying on the new community - possibly surrounding issue of delayed parousia.  As a response to these teachers, some might have shut themselves off from any teachers.

    • Teaching of Paul is to live life joyfully, not to close yourself off to the world, but to be a part of the world, but transformed by Christ.  The power of God in the Spirit is on display in the way people live with one another.  

    • In other words - do not cut yourself off from all joys, but also do not allow yourself to be depraved in every craving.  Either side of the extreme falls short of God’s intention for the life of a believer.

Preaching Thoughts

  • Be Christ in Christmas.  The best way to keep Christ in Christmas is to be Christ in Christmas for others.  Rejoice, pray, give thanks.  If this is your mindset, there is no way that Christ can be taken out of your Christmas.  “Nothing can take Christ out of Christmas as long as I strive to Be Christ in Christmas.

  • The prophets and the teaching of Christ go hand in hand.  Discerning the truth is done in community, with the Holy Spirit.  Discerning false prophets is no easy task, but should be done through the lens of “The God of peace.”  “The working of the Spirit in the form of prophecy is not to be quenched, but neither is it immune to scrutiny” (Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Interpretation: First and Second Thessalonians, p. 85).


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).