Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)
St. Matthew 3:1-12
Prayer of the Day:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
3.1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
St. Matthew 3:1-12. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Repent and Sin No More
There is an old story, occasionally employed by desperate preachers (count me guilty as charged…), that describes a painter who thinned out his paint to save money on a job. No sooner had he finished painting than a great rainstorm hit the house and washed the watered-down paint off the walls. The voice of God thundered down from on high: “Repaint and thin no more!”
The call to “repent and sin no more” is, of course, a conflation of the words of John the Baptizer in this week’s Gospel lesson (St. Matthew 3:2) and those of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem (St. John 8:11). It is the essential message which lies at the heart of the Advent season, though, and that is why John the Baptist plays such a prominent role these weeks. We’ll follow him this week and next (St. Matthew 11:2-11) as we prepare ourselves for the Christmas season to arrive.
At the core of John’s message is the call to repentance. He understands human beings as sinful and prone to choosing other than what God wants for us. His baptismal ministry is not a washing away of sin. If that was the case, the believer would have to be baptized multiple times daily! It is, instead, a symbol of death and resurrection. One is drowned in the waters of baptism, and brought up to a new life — to a new beginning. Paul said it well in his letter to the Christians at Rome:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. [Romans 6:3-4]
The word “repentance” is one of my favorite Biblical words. It is commonly understood, these days, as: “feel badly about something you’ve done, so that you can be forgiven (and escape the consequences of your actions…)” The Biblical word is much richer than that, and calls us more deeply into the life of faith. μετανοέω (more commonly seen in the form of a noun: μετάνοια — “metanoia”) is made up of the prefix μετα (“meta” — to transform) and the root word νοια (“noia” — from “nous” — or “mind”). It means to have one’s mind completely transformed.
This is what John the Baptist expects to happen when his followers become followers of Christ. They will be completely transformed. They will die to their old selves, and be raised to new life in Christ. They will die to their human sinfulness, and be raised to new life in the Spirit. They will die to the image of themselves at the center of the world, and be raised to a new image: that of Christ at the center, and the believer set free to serve the neighbor. It is a dramatic and life-changing transformation.
Advent is a time of opening ourselves up to this movement of faith. A time of reflection, to consider what need for transformation is present in our own lives. A time of hopefulness, to consider the richness of the gift that Christ is to us. A time of longing, to await the powerful promise of Christ.
At the heart of a good Advent is the desire for Christ to be born anew in our hearts. John invites us on that journey this week, and we pray you might experience it in its fullness.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What is the message of John to the people of his day?
- How does Jesus embody John’s call to a complete transformation of the mind?
- Why is there resistance to what John had to say?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- Where is transformation needed in my life?
- How might I open my heart to be transformed by Christ?
- Who will join me this season, in praying for God to give us new life?