Notes for a message based on Matthew 3:1-12; “A”–Advent 2

Readings for the second Sunday of Advent (year “A”) are: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Rom 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

You can read them here:   NIV  //  NRSV  // The Message

 

clip_image002

“Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord!”

 

All of us have a “claim-to-fame.” I am talking about a trait of our personality, a shtick, a certain something that when somebody mentions our name, that “claim-to-fame” pops into everybody’s head.

 

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. Traditionally this Sunday is dedicated to John the Baptist. John the Baptist’s “claim-to-fame” seems to be telling people off. Telling people off IS NOT what defines his ministry and vocation; it is, however, what is most remembered about him. Matthew and Luke give us a glimpse of this “claim-to-fame” when they quote his saying to his congregation, “You brood of vipers…” How would we like it if a traveling evangelist addressed our congregation as a “clutch of snakes?”

 

John the Baptist was an austere dude; his messages were stern, harsh, and full of hail and brimstone. Making people feel gushy, warm and fuzzy was not his gig. He was not a slave to fashion either. He wore a tunic of camel hair, ate locusts and, if I had to guess, did not spend much time on personal hygiene – he probably stunk to high heaven.

 

I don’t know too many people who like being told off by anyone, much less by someone who looks and sounds deranged. Yet people came to hear this “unpleasant” character in droves. Why do you think that was?

 

Let us recoup what we just heard. I just told you what an unpleasant experience it was to hear John the Baptist preach. Yet all the Gospels, and even the contemporary Judean historian Josephus, confirm that people from all walks of life came to hear him.

clip_image004

· Pharisees and Sadducees – Matthew 3:7 and John 1:24,

· People from Jerusalem and Judea and the whole region of Jordan – Matthew 3:5,

· Tax Collectors – Luke 3:12,

· Soldiers – Luke 3:14

clip_image006

· Josephus writes in Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 5, Paragraph 2:

“…John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words …”

clip_image008

People came because John was called and led to say what had to be said. And sometimes what has to be said is so raw and so hard to digest, that dancing around the issue defuses the message. So John did not defuse the message.

 

People came because as hard as it was to hear, John named the problems that society was facing at the time. Although he had no power or position in the political system, he spoke with almost irresistible authority. People were moved by his words because he spoke the truth, giving them hope that they could change the wrongs of the society that they were part of. In order for that to happen, people had to learn to see the world through God’s eyes; that is what John was doing.

 

Every life has an element of routine. We get so entrenched in our routine that we stop noticing the things that happen around us.

 

For the tax collectors, it was business as usual, it was the way it was done for generations to {a} collect as much money as possible, {b} pay what had to be paid out to Caesar and {c} pocket the rest.

 

For the soldiers it was business as usual to extort money from citizens by falsely accusing them and threatening them with death.

 

For the Sadducees and the Pharisees it was business as usual to study the written word, trying to figure out how to live their lives. Unfortunately the answers they came with were radically different, but that was their status quo.

 

The tax collectors, soldiers, Sadducees and Pharisees failed to notice the damage that they were doing because they lived “business-as-usual” lives in a “business-as-usual” world. Except, all of a sudden it was about to become not a “business-as-usual” world. Something new and wonderful was about to happen.

 

As I stand before you, 2000 years after the fact, it is easy for us to see what the tax collectors, soldiers, Sadducees and Pharisees failed to notice. Sometimes I cannot help but wonder: what are we failing to notice? What do we need to do so that we can see our world through God’s eyes?

clip_image010

People also came to hear John the Baptist because he gave them hope. John the Baptist called people to change – change of heart, mind, and actions – and John showed that these positive changes are possible (see Luke 3:10-14).

NIV Luke 3:10 "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."

The truth is that even if all the people who came to hear John the Baptist decided to make changes in their lives – to start sharing, stop taking bribes, stop extorting and making false accusations – these changes would not resolve all the problems that Judea was facing.

BUT it would be a good start! John’s call to repent – to change one’s heart, mind and actions – was a promise that positive changes are possible and are on the way.

 

John’s call for change, John’s call “to prepare the way of the Lord,” was a reminder and an assurance that God is with us and among us, evoking, guiding, correcting, and welcoming every day of life with new possibilities.

 

John’s call “to prepare the way of the Lord” reminds us that with God all things are possible because God is actively involved in our lives.

 

John’s call “to prepare the way of the Lord” ascertains that God is active in God’s creation and that God is interested in the quality of our lives. While God is not promising health and wealth, God’s hope for all of us is to thrive in the world that he has given us. We prepare the way of the Lord when, by our choices, we open possibilities for God’s creative, transforming love to enter into our lives.

clip_image012

Last week we named some of the problems that we, our country, and our world is facing. John’s call “to prepare the way of the Lord” is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. All of us make choices every day. We prepare the way of the Lord when our choices open possibilities for God’s creating, transforming and empowering love and grace to enter into OUR lives. It’s true that we can’t solve everything that is wrong with the world today. But we can make daily choices to live in such a way that when people see our community they are reminded of the Kingdom of God, we can make choices that will make a difference in our part of the world. If everyone did this, imagine the impact we could have! By allowing God to use us think of the hope we could give! Little by little, change can be accomplished! But it all starts with us and the choices that we make.

clip_image014

A good place to start would be to make a commitment to God and to each other to spend more time in intentional prayer for each other. We can make a commitment to a disciplined Bible study that meets once/week and delves into God’s Word, asking God to help us to see the world through God’s eyes, asking God to reveal to us what changes we can make personally. We can start by making a commitment to spend more time together as a community; to become a welcoming place where our neighbors look forward to visiting; to become a beacon of hope on the Vinegar Hill.

 

{Transition into Holy Communion}

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: