Sermon – December 14, 2003 – The Times They Are A Changin’

was driving down the road the other day, and I heard a song from that
great writer of Advent hymns . . . Bob Dylan. It’s seems funny that I
would have to explain who Bob Dylan is, but I suppose I do with all
these years that have passed since he awed the world in the 60s.
Bob Dylan was a song writer and folk singer who wrote what turned out to
be the anthem for all the cultural and political changes that came out
of that time in our history. The song was called, “The times, they
are a changin’”. The last verse of that song goes, “the line it is
drawn, the curse it is cast, the slow one now will later be fast, as the
present now will later be past. The order is rapidly fading. And the
first one now will later be last, for the times they are a changin’.”

A secular song, full of prophetic words and sentiments that we
recognize as Christians, and it may be why that song so resonated in its time.
. . it presents the same notions that we know resulted in the coming of
Jesus Christ. . . that with Christ comes change, inevitable, positive,
direction shifting change. It is impossible for things not to change
when we encounter Jesus of Nazareth. He is an agent of change. And
that the encounter with Jesus Christ is transforming. The order is
changing. Things are reversed.

John the Baptist got me thinking about Bob Dylan today, as we read of
the baptist proclaiming the coming kingdom of God, the coming of Jesus.
He starts out a little rough today, “you brood of vipers. . . . don’t
rest on your laurels, on your heritage . . . God can raise of children
of Abraham any old day, he is saying. He says that change is coming
and others, the unexpected, will be included among the favored ones. He
is saying that things will change with the coming of Christ, and it
will be fruitful change, productive change, positive change. To bear
good fruit is to participate in that which is growing, thriving. Now,
John didn’t have a lot of social skills. Let’s recognize that off the
bat. There is probably a note in his third grade records that says, “Does
not play well with others.” John is a rough character, but let’s not
be put off by his rough words because he is bearing the good news.

And the people respond, as we all do when we encounter Jesus, “what
should we do?” “What should we do,” the crowd said. Now, John does not
say, “Do more sacrificing. Pay more attention to the purity laws.”
No, he says, “be on the lookout for your neighbor.” As this wind of
change blows through, be on the lookout for those whom you have looked
past. Consider your neighbor. He says, “share your coat, if you have
two.” John is saying you will be drawn into relationship with folks
in need, and it will be a relationship of responsibility. You will need
to reevaluate your own needs in the light of the needs of others,
because change is coming.

What should we do? He says, ‘be honest.” Collect only what is
prescribed to you. You are going to be drawn into relationships of
integrity and truth and respect. You will called to observe, practice, honor
justice. This will change how you treat each other, as Jesus later
reminds us, that we are to do unto others that which we would have them to
unto us. Change is coming and bringing with it truth and justice . . .
for you and those in your community.

What should we do? Don’t extort, he said to the soldier. Don’t use
your power to take advantage of another through fear or dishonesty.
There is going to be a change in the power system among those touched by
this Jesus. The first will be last, the poor will be exalted, the
hungry will be filled with good things. The structures intended to
benefit people will truly do so.

Change is coming and it will change how we relate to one another. And
when that change comes to us, the community changes, and when the
community changes , the world begins to change. Christ has come to bring
change to the world. . . . that is what John has come to proclaim, that
is the Good News that John bears will overcome the ways of the past and
create a new community.

Well, here we are . . . . the new community. . . constituted by Christ,
ever changing in response to his Word, his Spirit. We are a part of
that blessed community, and so now we ask the question, “What should we
do?”

Well, let’s listen to John. Please note that John did not tell them
to change their vocations. He didn’t say don’t be a soldier, don’t be a
tax-collector. No, but he said the way you do things will change.
Luther picked this up nicely in the Reformation as he wrote about our
Christian faith being expressed in any vocation. Let your vocations be
informed by the Word of God, by the ethic of the kingdom. Let your
relationships in the world, in your community, in your family, at work,
reflect the blessing that has come into your life. . . the message that
John proclaimed. . . let that change move through you and be an agent of
that change in your world. John is saying live a repentant life style
that sees the needs of others and speaks the grace of Christ into the
darkness.

“What should we do . . as Christian parents?” What should we do as
Christian administrators . . what should we do as Christian teachers. .
. . what should I do as a Christian friend? what should we do . . .
.? The question should ever turn us to the path of Christ, the way of
love and reconciliation, of justice and hope. . . . and peace. And
peace.

Much of the change that falls upon cultures and communities is
alienating and disorienting. Old ways are undermined, and we wonder if the new
ways serve us any better. That kind of change is unanchored in the
grace of God. It is change that can leave us hanging and unsure, and
restless. “The times, they are a changin’ for each of us in our own
generation, in our own lives. We live in a time of change, it seems, always,
when very little seems certain. But the change which Christ’s love,
Christ’s word makes in us is fruitful, purposeful . . . meant to change
the world. And there, in the purposefulness, in the objective of
Christ’s presence comes our peace. Finally, this change brings peace, and
not chaos, or alienation, or fear. Peace.

Paul got it right this morning, I think. “Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by
prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to
God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Just as John promised, Christ has come. He is near. Peace has come
for you, and through you, for the whole of the world. That is the word
of the angels that announced his birth. That is the promise of peace
to us today, again, as ‘the times, they are a changin,’.

Thanks be to God.
Amen