Pastor Marni Nancekivell led us in worship. In her sermon, which you can read below, she said:
Now that sounds like what this season of Yuletide is supposed to be about – good cheer and holiday spirit and all that. But the call to rejoice is about a kind of joy that lasts beyond the unwrapping of the presents of December 25. We are being reminded of a deep kind of joy that will permeate our vision and our experience.”
Advent 3C – Grace Lutheran
December 12, 2021
One of my favourite Franciscan stories is about a small town called Gubbio.
Back in the early 13th century, towns and cities in Italy were like small countries, they were often at war with their neighbours and there was a great deal of pride over each town and territory.
Gubbio was just like this. Its citizens were very proud of their little town. Actually, the people of Gubbio were not just proud, they were really almost arrogant.
However, a shadow came to Gubbio. The town’s leaders tried to hush it up, didn’t want to upset the people, didn’t want their neighbours to know what was happening. There were a couple of murders, particularly brutal murders, the bodies found mutilated in the street in the morning.
Fear began to grow in Gubbio; people began to be afraid, particularly of going out at night. Soon the problem could no longer be hushed up, so the town mayor issued a command that no one was to go out at night unless given special permission.
They called for aid of a particularly brave knight but were dismayed the next morning to find his mutilated body lying in the street. Two of the local lads, got a little intoxicated one night and filled with foolish bravery, decided to try and defeat this devil which was stalking their town.
Sadly, the next morning their bodies were found, as others before them had been.
A town meeting was called and there was much arguing and many ideas and it seemed that no progress was being made. Some one suggested they called in the holy man from Assisi, which was not too far away. Francis’ reputation had spread far and wide and many stories had already begun to circulate about him.
So, the town agreed to call in this scrawny little man, dressed in rags, to see what he could do. Everyone went to bed that night, wondering what would be found in the morning. I mean, if a strong and gallant knight ended up dead, what chance did a skinny little beggar have, even if he was considered holy?
That night, while the towns people slept, Francis went outside the town gates and waited to see what would happen. Along came a shadow, slinking, sliding through the night. He sensed the presence of a human and came towards Francis. There before Francis stood a wolf, thin, mangy and very hungry.
The next morning, the towns folk awoke with a sense of a foreboding. They came out of their houses, but there was no sign of Francis. The townsfolk began to get frantic. What could have happened? There was a through search of the town and he was no where to be found.
Then the shout went up – he had been spotted outside the gate of the town – but he wasn’t alone. There, walking beside him, as tame as any pet dog, walked a great grey shadow of a wolf.
Francis had struck a deal with the wolf. If the town’s people left food out for the wolf, he wouldn’t harm them. It took a little while but soon the wolf was a common sight in and out of people’s homes. He lost that desperate, lean hungry look and his coat began to grow thick and healthy. The town’s folk grew to love the wolf, and he the people. While the wolf was transformed, so were the people of Gubbio. They were no longer arrogant and proud. The fear and the uncertainty had taught them humility, Francis had taught them generosity and a more open nature.
In our gospel reading, the people who listened to John the Baptiser, asked;
“What must we do?”
The answer for the people of Gubbio was to put aside their arrogance and become more generous.
They experienced a kind of repentance – and after that life for the town – and for the wolf, was different.
Today’s readings have a bit of a mixed message in them… for we hear John’s call to repentance – a call to change life… and we also hear the Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah’s message’s to “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart”
Now that sounds like what this season of Yuletide is supposed to be about – good cheer and holiday spirit and all that. But the call to rejoice is about a kind of joy that lasts beyond the unwrapping of the presents of December 25. We are being reminded of a deep kind of joy that will permeate our vision and our experience.
Then with the word rejoice still ringing in our ears, there is John the Baptist’s call in the Gospel to repent…
Hear these words:
“Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”… Now, that doesn’t exactly sound like Yuletide spirit, does it?
John reminds us that the God who is coming is not like Santa Claus “who knows whether you are naughty or nice”, but the God who is about to enter into the world on Christmas Eve is Jesus, God with us, the one who demands that we “turn around” and “follow him”…
Jesus and John who announces the coming of Jesus say much of the same thing… “look at who you are, and begin there”. When it comes to sharing, share from what you have – don’t wait until you have more – or until your offering can be of a higher quality – start now, with what you have.
Practise justice where you work or live. Build fairness and mercy into all of your present relationships. Pursue Truth. Live with integrity.
Don’t wait – to be somewhere else, or to be someone else – begin with the road in front of you. Walk that road, and so allow God to transform the real life you live right now…
So – repent and rejoice – in all things, with the real life you live in the real road.
Rejoice – for what is happening is wonderful.
Repent, because from now on, everything will be different.