The Second Sunday of Advent; Year A (12/4/2016)

Texts: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.

3.1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 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.’” 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, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 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? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.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 axe 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, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

This weekend we take our annual two-week journey through the life of John the Baptizer. Featured in each of the four Gospel accounts (actually, the account of John baptizing in the Judean wilderness is the first story covered by all four of the Evangelists: Matthew, Mark Luke and John), John the Baptizer is a pivotal figure at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

He is described as a prophet, with camel’s hair clothing, a leather belt, and eating what he can harvest from the land. This is how prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah are depicted — the first century observer would notice this immediately. Perhaps this is why “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him.”

But what strikes our ear is not the appearance of John. It is, instead, his message. Repent. The Kingdom has come near. Prepare the way. Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Whatever doesn’t bear good fruit is destroyed. One more powerful than me is coning. He will gather his wheat, but the chaff he will burn.

It is the message of a prophet.

John’s message has much in common with the messages carried to God’s people by so many other prophets. His role isn’t to predict the future (this would be a prognosticator). Rather, as a prophet, John’s role is to point out that there are two distinct paths through life. One path leads to blessing and the other path leads to destruction. This message has heightened importance for John’s listeners, due to the presence of Jesus. These paths also diverge related to him. One path leads to knowing Jesus, and experiencing the presence and power of God. The other path misses this entirely.

So what does the path to blessing — the path to Jesus — look like? For John the Baptizer, it looks like repentance.

Repentance is a crucial theme in John’s ministry. Those of us who live in the 21st Century may not immediately understand how central this is. These days, repentance has become linked to confession, which usually leads to absolution. In some people’s minds, this is the “get out of jail free” card that comes with Christian faith. If we own up to God about what we’ve done wrong (confession), God will forgive us and let us start over again (absolution). What John has in mind is far more profound than this.

In the Greek New Testament, the word for repentance is μετανοία (metanoia). Literally translated, it refers to a transformation (metamorphosis) of the mind (noetics: the science of the intellect or of pure thought; reasoning). What John calls for is not a ritual listing of past sins, and the hope to have the charges dismissed. John calls for the transformation of how a believer thinks. About sin. About new life. About faithfulness. About God. A transformation that comes when the believer’s heart and mind are captured by Jesus, the Christ.

John came to prepare the people of his day. He comes to prepare us as well. For Christ.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why do people flock to John, where he is baptizing and preaching in the wilderness?
  2. What is his primary message to those who listen to him?
  3. How does this prepare people to experience Jesus as the Messiah?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How has my faith transformed my thinking about God, about myself and about faith?
  2. If my mind could be completely transformed by faith, how would this change my living?
  3. What will I do to open myself up to the transformation God wants for me?