Alex Zuber, Harrisonburg, VA

Warm-up Question

When have you had a real “wake up call”?

Happy Advent You Brood of Vipers

It’s been nearly two years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many have grown weary and complacent as the global crisis wears on.  But our challenges are not over; just this week a new variant, dubbed “Omicron”, has been identified by South African scientists.  In an address to the nation, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “The emergence of the Omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue.” 

While many have grown weary, President Ramaphosa calls on the world to wake up, seek equity, and build up one another in the struggle against this virus.  Lack of access to the COVID vaccine will affect the poorest of the global populations first.  Ramaphosa argues that shutting down travel will only hurt the physical and financial health of nations who are beginning to see the Omicron variant, many of whom need support in producing the COVID-19 vaccine.  This disparity in vaccine distribution will cost lives.  While inequity may not be on the list of COVID-19 symptoms, it can be just as deadly as the virus itself.  It’s easy to focus only on physical disease symptoms.  But after all this time, we may need to wake up to the other crises of inequity and injustice which make this pandemic so deadly.

Discussion Questions

  • Did you know about inequity in vaccine distribution worldwide?
  • What other deadly challenges do you see alongside COVID-19, and who is being most affected?
  • How can you work for equity in access to healthcare 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 Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Right off the bat we see why Hallmark has a robust industry in Christmas cards and not Advent cards.  “Happy Advent, You Brood of Vipers” might not sell too well as a holiday card, but these words are certainly a wake-up call for the audience of John the Baptizer.  

With this abrupt beginning, it seems weird that the reading ends with “So, with many other exhortations, [John] proclaimed the good news to the people.” What part of brood of vipers is good news?  Biblically speaking, calling someone a descendent of the treacherous serpent of Eden is no compliment.  The blow is not softened by the following lines, which proclaim wrath, judgement, and the people’s need to repent.  This is strong language, meant to grab the people’s attention and wake them up to their sinfulness and the suffering in the world around them.

It’s a wonder that John was such a popular preacher.  He essentially begins his sermon with “SINNERS!  Here’s how you’ve got it all wrong!”  Nevertheless, John grabs our attention, and then unquestionably shares the good news. (He really does!)  After this weird viper start, John lays out God’s bold vision for the world.  In this world resources are shared, the wealthy aren’t predatory, and the powerful aren’t violently coercive.  The poor are uplifted and the powerful are humble and responsible with their means.  This is good news!  

The gospel critiques power.  The gospel turns the world upside down and lifts up the lowly.  We who hear this good news are meant to bear witness, so that the gospel holds communities, individuals, and political powers accountable to God’s way of justice. good news, or gospel, is a bold statement from its very inception.  It has deep cultural, personal, and political ramifications which turn everything upside down. 

And isn’t that exactly what John does? Those with possessions, tax collectors, soldiers, you and me…  John doesn’t let us get off easy. He asks great things of those who hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. John turns our self-centeredness upside down. 

This text may seem heavy and out of place.  Here we are, in a season of  hope and joy, expectantly anticipating Christmas.  Today is even called “Gaudete Sunday” across the church, meaning “Rejoice Sunday.”  Yet Advent is more than the run up to Christmas.  John’s message calls us vipers and asks a lot of us.  Still,  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 vipers.

Discussion Questions

  • Has there ever been a situation in your life that woke you up to injustice?  If so, share that story and describe what you did, why you did it, and what happened in consequence.
  • 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 guidance to the tax collectors and soldiers who speak to him. What instruction do you imagine John the Baptist might offer you regarding your own repentance?

Activity Suggestions

Find a friend, neighbor, or member of your congregation and have a one-on-one conversation with them about what concerns they have in their life or their community.  Practice “active listening,”where you summarize their statement with “I hear you say…” or “what I think you’re saying is…”.  Do not offer commentary on their reflections, rather ensure that they are being heard and that you are aware of the needs around you.

Closing Prayer

Wake us up, Lord, to the needs all around us.  As we trust that you hear the cries of our hearts, turn us from our viper-ish ways, and rouse us from our complacency to serve you in thought, word, and deed.  Give us hearts full of rejoicing, through Christ our Lord. Amen.