Worship Helps for Advent 3

Artwork: The Preaching of St. John the Baptist
Artist: Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Worship Theme: This Sunday, traditionally called Gaudete, (Rejoice) captures the heightening anticipation of the coming Savior. Each lesson reinforces the “good news” on which the Gospel lesson ends. Those who anticipate the arrival of the Christ rejoice, because the Lord and his deliverance is near. Gaudeamus pariter.

Old Testament: Nehemiah 8:9-18 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep." For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve." 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. 13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. 14 They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month 15 and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: "Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths"-- as it is written. 16 So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. 18 Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.

1. Why had many Jewish people in Jerusalem wept?

2. What reason did Nehemiah give people not to weep?

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

3. What two attitudes does Paul encourage in us here?

4. How can someone feel joyful in the troubled world we see all around us?

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." 10 "What should we do then?" the crowd asked. 11 John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" 13 "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely-- be content with your pay." 15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

5. What did John the Baptist tell the crowd should come along with real repentance?

6. What are some examples of actions that fit real repentance?

7. What was the final goal of John’s preaching?

Answers:
1. People had wept as they listened to the words of the Law which God had given Israel on Mount Sinai. The Law showed them how they had sinned against God. It also may have made them think of loved ones who had been killed when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, fulfilling God’s ancient threats in the Law.

2. Nehemiah said, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

3. Paul tells us to rejoice and to live not for ourselves, but let our gentleness (treating others kindly and fairly) be evident to all. Anxious? Paul says to pray (for others too).

4. A) The Lord is near! B) God’s peace will guard our minds in Christ Jesus.

5. John told the crowd that they should produce “fruit” in keeping with repentance.  If they were truly sorry for their sinfulness, the fruit of faith, a fitting response, would follow.  Real repentance cannot lead to smugness, complacency or habitual repetition of the same sin.

6. Some actions which fit with real repentance, John says, include sharing with those in need, not abusing your position by cheating others, and being content with what you have.

7. John’s goal in preaching was to lead people to grasp what sin is and how bad its results are, so they could be drawn to one much greater than he.  That man was Jesus, the Christ, who was destined to die for them and who would send the Holy Spirit to create this type of life in them.

 comic

Putting your faith into action
John the Baptist gave some pretty specific instructions to the crowds on how to produce “good fruit”: Share with those who have less, don’t cheat anyone, be fair and honest, be content. These are good stewardship guidelines for us also: Give to God the portion we have set aside; then serve him by serving others with the remainder. Have a generous attitude. Don’t give anyone reason to question our faith by questioning our honesty. Give thanks to God for everything he has given us, especially the gift of eternal life through the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection on the third day. We should always pray that God will send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to produce “fruit in keeping with repentance,” to glorify him in all we do.


A reading from the Book of Concord for the Third Sunday in Advent
Clear testimonies in Scripture and in the Church Fathers declare that, even though we have good works, yet in these very works we need mercy.  Faith, looking upon this mercy, cheers and consoles us.  The adversaries are wrong when they praise merits and add nothing about this faith that takes hold of mercy.  The promise [of mercy] is grasped only through faith.  We justly find fault with the doctrine about wholly deserving merit, since it omits justifying faith.  It also hides Christ’s glory and office as Mediator.  We are not teaching anything new.  The Church Fathers have handed down the doctrine that we need mercy even in good works.

Scripture teaches the same.  “Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You” (Psalm 143:2).  This denies absolutely the glory of righteousness, if God does not forgive, but judges and convicts their hearts.  For when David boasts in other places about his righteousness, he speaks about his own cause against the persecutors of God’s Word.  He does not speak of his personal purity.  He asks that God’s cause and glory be defended; “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me” (Psalm 7:8).  In Psalm 130:3, he says that no one can endure God’s judgment: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” – Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles V, Love and Fulfilling of the Law (paragraphs 202-205)

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