12/4/2016 Second Sunday of Advent The text is Matthew 3:1-12.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Prepare,” cries a voice in the wilderness, “Prepare!” The voice is a powerful instrument – whether loud or soft, true to pitch or a bit off, it demands your attention. And, there is no more powerful a voice than that of John the Baptist for behind and within his voice is the word of God – powerfully delivered, and interjected with his own brand of compelling verbiage and sharp insults.
This makes John the Baptist one of the most colorful characters in the Bible. He’s the kind of person I would like to meet. I admire his great insight into what is to come, his vision of Christ and the truth he speaks. I am drawn to his open honesty and his conviction in what he says, even if calling the pious, religious leaders of his time a bunch of poisonous snakes isn’t going to win him friends. But then, he’s not out there to make friends. He is one of the few people who dares to tell things just as he sees them, without any sugar coating, for he has a God-given task – to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.
John is a man with a mission and a message. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” On the surface, it’s a simple message, and yet, it is a message that turns the world inside out. For, the people who flock to the wilderness in order to hear John are told in no uncertain terms that it’s not enough just knowing that God is their God. They need more. They need to turn their eyes and hearts and control of their very lives over to their God…and not just someday, not when it’s convenient, but NOW, TODAY, THIS VERY HOUR! For, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. So, repent…and don’t take your time doing it…for the mightier one is just around the corner and he’s not bringing hugs and kisses with him. He’s carrying a winnowing fork and plans to use it!
Turn or burn! Now, that’s a simple message, even if it’s not a happy one. It’s shocking to our ears! It chimes to an angry and cruel God who is out to judge and punish. It doesn’t sound much like the God who dies to save us, the loving and gracious God we’re comfortable knowing. And, I can almost hear the same shock waves shattering the pride and hopes and dreams of the people long ago. For, these people know the same loving and gracious God, the God who saved them time and time again. They look forward to the one who is promised to save them one last time and forever. These people long ago are comfortable knowing that God – perhaps, even too comfortable. And the word they hear from John comes as a shock and forces them to take a good hard look at themselves and a long look at their God.
“Repent,” John cries. And people look to God and are baptized. “Repent,” he cries. And others turn around and see where they stand. They are the chosen ones, blessed by God, not because of their choices or in reward for their birth or their work. “Repent,” John cries again. And, some other people refuse to listen and walk away in disgust. They miss out on the opportunity.
It’s amazing that anyone back then listens to John, let alone believes and receives a baptism of repentance. For the cry to repent is a challenge to them as it is a challenge to us today. It is a daily challenge to look honestly at ourselves and what we have done. It is a daily challenge to look honestly to our God and what God has done. It is a cry to STOP in the midst of everyday life and to see ourselves, not through our accomplishments, physical appearance, knowledge or abilities, but as God has made us and as God would have us be. It is a challenge to turn around and let God be our God and let God be the source for our living.
The Baptist cry, “repent,” is such a simple message but it turns the world inside out, for it is not a simple thing to do. If it were easy, there would be no need for the cry in the wilderness. Our eyes would always be focused outward to God and our lives would be lived to the praise and honor and glory of God’s name. But we know, our eyes are often turned inward on ourselves, our own lives, our accomplishments and needs, successes and failures, what we have and what we don’t have. And we either feel pretty good about ourselves or pretty lousy, depending upon how we measure up to the world’s standards. By doing that to ourselves, we miss out on the joy of what we have and are and can be through God. For by God’s standards, we are all pretty special people, so special, that each one of us is worth God’s giving his only son…the one for whom we are to prepare to receive.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” These are words of preparation spoken by the Baptizer as he prepares for the coming of Christ. And preparing for the coming of Christ and celebrating what we have in Christ is what the season of Advent is all about.
John’s cry for repentance is a cry to prepare. It is not to make us cower in fear at the mention of God’s coming. No, it is John’s message to prepare in order that we might be ready to receive what God is bringing. It is a message to turn us around to receive God’s life-giving gifts in the midst of our hectic days. Yet, it is also a message that has become easy for us to ignore. For, we have seen and heard and read too much. So, John’s cry for repentance may seem like nothing more than the ravings of yet another lunatic or the ranting of another tele-evangelist out for fame and fortune. John’s cry for repentance and God’s message to us this Advent season can be lost in the midst of many other demanding voices.
A voice cries, “Repent.” And this voice is one that should have us stop in our tracks and take heed. For, we don’t want to miss out on the joyous celebration of the birth of a first-born child, a son. We don’t want to miss out on the comfort and gifts of a loving and gracious redeemer. We don’t want to miss out on letting the source of our life become the source of our living. We don’t want to miss out on our freedom in God…a freedom to live as God would have us live and feel pretty good, because we have been given a full measure of God’s love for us through Christ.
Repent…for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This is a simple message that turns the world inside out. It is the cry of a Baptist, preparing the way for Christ in the wilderness, and the way of life to keep us in Christ forever. Stop, listen and heed the voice. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.