The Second Sunday in Advent (December 5, 2010)

A New Life; A Different Life

Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7) Romans 15:4-13 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.

Text:

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. 5 Then 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.

St. John, the Baptizer, had a remarkable affect on people.

He was an intriguing person – one of the more interesting Biblical characters. His attire was standard fare for Hebrew prophets: camel-hair clothing and a leather belt. So was his diet: locusts and wild honey. When people saw him, they knew that he stood in a long line of prophetic speakers who brought a word from God to those who believe. He was an engaging speaker: people came from miles around just to hear his message. He was a man who understood ritual: as his listeners were touched by his sermons – as they become convinced that they needed nothing less than a whole new beginning – he would throw their heads under the water, symbolically drowning them. Then he would dramatically haul them back up into the air, symbolically bringing them back to life – to a new life – to a different life.

John’s approach was powerful, and many who met him had life-changing experiences. They were transformed by his approach, and the growing crowds were a sign of just how great his impact was.

John’s focus was on repentance: an interesting Biblical concept. The Greek word for “repentance” is μετανοία (meta-noia). Meta, for transform. Noia for mind. In other words, repentance is to have one’s mind completely transformed. Repentance is to look at life through completely different eyes. Repentance is to live with an entirely new set of priorities, objectives, goals and intents. Repentance is to turn around and walk in a new, fresh and faithful way. Repentance is to experience a new life — a different life.

In this morning’s text, Saint John, the Baptizer, says, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” John is saying that one’s words and actions ought to be consistent with a mind transformed by faith. This isn’t another form of the Boy Scout motto, “do a good deed daily.” No, what John is after here runs much deeper. He is teaching his listeners, and his readers today, that to be touched by faith means to receive such a dramatically new outlook on life that everything becomes new — everything becomes different.  Every relationship becomes an opportunity to share grace. Every need becomes an opportunity to be the presence of Christ on earth. Every conflict becomes an opportunity to bring healing and new beginnings.

John was not Messiah, of course. His ministry wouldn’t usher in a new age. He wouldn’t be the vehicle through which believers would be made right with God (and, for that matter, neither would his demand that people repent of their sins and ask God for forgiveness). His was a preparatory role – God sent John to prepare the people for the arrival of Jesus, the Christ. By coming to know a need for repentance, one comes to know a need for Christ. That is John’s ministry, and he continues that ministry today.

Acknowledging our sin. Asking God for forgiveness. Looking at life through a transformed mind. These actions won’t save us, for sure. Jesus alone is the source of that gift. But these actions may just well be what opens our hearts and our minds to a living and growing relationship with the Risen Christ. If so, then John has accomplished his purpose once again, and his ministry continues to be the life-changing force it was in the first century. To that, then, let God’s people say, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What impression did John leave on his first century listeners?
  2. How did his message compare to the message of Jesus?
  3. How did his ministry prepare people to be touched by Jesus?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What, in my life, cries out for forgiveness and renewal?
  2. How has God’s grace made a difference in my own life?
  3. Does John’s ministry with me cause me to consider leading someone else to where they can trust in the promise of Jesus Christ?