Second Sunday of Advent; Dec. 4. 2016; Year A
Isaiah 11.1-10; Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19; Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3.1-12
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
35 years ago my father-in-law, Judd, who happens to be a pastor, preached a sermon on our Gospel reading. It was probably the shortest sermon ever in the history of preaching. He and his wife, April, had twins that were three months old at the time. To say Judd and April were exhausted was an understatement. Falling asleep on a Saturday night, Judd asked April, “What should I preach tomorrow on this text?”
Joking, April said, “Why don’t you just walk up the sanctuary and tell people to repent.”
The next morning April had the twins in worship and was sitting next to one of the ushers. Judd proceeded to walk from the back of the sanctuary down the middle isle to the front yelling, “Repent, Repent, Repent!” as he went along. He kept walking right through the door to the sacristy at the front of the church and disappeared.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, the usher leaned over to April and said, “Should we collect the offering now?”
I was tempted to give the same sermon this morning.
We are welcomed to worship this day with the words of John the Baptist, and they are anything but welcoming, maybe even offensive: “Repent!,” and, “You brood of vipers!” Axes laying at the root of trees and chaff being burned in an unquenchable fire.
Nothing says happy Advent and Merry Christmas like: “You bunch of poisonous snakes, bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
These words are hard to hear and maybe we don’t even know what they mean.
When Jesus himself launches into ministry his first words are exactly the same as John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
When we hear a call to repent, to consider that maybe we aren’t living the kind of life God wills for us, that maybe we have some rough edges that need some refining, that maybe we need to surrender to the accountable and loving arms of God, often times our first reaction when told to repent is one of defensiveness.
There are some things in my life I really don’t want to change, not only my life, but the way I think about and see the world and Christ in the world.
But sometimes I need to change, sometimes you need to change, and Jesus is often the one pointing out where that needs to happen in our lives.
Advent, the season we are in right now, is about preparation. We prepare to celebrate Christmas, the coming of God into the world in the form of a human being, a baby. This type of preparation doesn’t mean putting up the Christmas tree, or baking cookies, or buying presents. These can be wonderful, fun things in our lives, but they are not what it means to prepare for the coming of God into the world in human flesh and bones.
John says that to prepare for the coming of Jesus means that we are to repent. But what does repentance mean?
Repentance is much more than an apology or feeling sorry for what you did. Apologies are for spilling milk and forgetting someone’s birthday. Repentance is even more than confessing our sins.
Repentance is about a way of life, a changing of the mind, a turning towards what is life-giving. It is a willingness to let God influence and change your life. This includes daily surrendering to God and an earnest prayer to make you new again.
There is a saying I once heard that goes like this: “God loves you just the way you are, but God loves you too much to let you stay that way.”
It is part of God’s mission in the world to constantly remake us.
The words of John the Baptist are not to make us feel beat down as if we are terrible, awful people. What he does is level the playing field. No one has an advantage over another, but all are called to waters of repentance.
I’m sure the Phairsees and Sadduccees, the religious leaders, were wondering why John wasn’t seeking out all the pagans to repent, or outsiders, or people who didn’t go to church on a regular basis. John wasn’t concerned with that, but rather interested in calling people of faith, God’s chosen people to repent.
Part of our life in reading Scripture and coming to worship is that sometimes we are going to hear stuff we’d rather bury or ignore. There is strong language of judgment at the end of our reading today where it ends with chaff burning with unquenchable fire. This is to serve as a wake up call to us. What in your life needs to go?
I came across an Advent devotion written by Matthew David Morris (medium.com). He focused on a verse from our Psalm today. Verse 4 says: “Let God defend the needy among the people, rescue the poor, and crush the oppressor.”
In reflecting on the state of being of our world and what it might mean to “crush the oppressor,” he writes:
Until quite recently, I’ve never been the kind of Christian who delighted in the imagination of God’s wrath. But now I read “crush the oppressor” and I think, Yes. Please, God. Please crush the oppressor. Please make it a crushing worthy of John’s Revelation. Please crush the oppressor that lives within each of us and make us anew out of clay. Wipe the slate clean. Pillars of salt. Lake of fire. Whatever—anything!…
It’s okay to feel a bit convicted by Scripture.
When Scripture convicts us we can forget that God also loves us, even gave up his life for us in Jesus. It is precisely because God loves us that we can let ourselves be convicted, maybe even have the oppressor crushed within each of us, and then let God shape us into who we are created to be.
Think about some of the closest people in your life, whether they are family or friends. Have any of them told you the truth, maybe something that was difficult for you to hear? You know they are telling you the truth because they love you.
If Jesus offends you in any way then it’s time to pay attention. If Scripture convicts you, let it move you to repentance. We an ask ourselves: What am I holding on to or making an excuse for? How does my mind need to be changed? How can I be stretched to further participate in the kingdom Jesus is ushering into this world?
Our Gospel reading can be a tough text to hear so close to Christmas, but maybe it’s what we need to hear. It cuts right through all the music, the lights, and the illusion that we should all just be happy during this time of year. We long for a world in which the poor are judged with righteousness, where equity is for the meek of the earth. We long for the vision in Isaiah of transformation and peace.
But this vision begins with God and then takes root within each of us.
In the Gospel of Luke “Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’ (Luke 17.20-21) Some translations even read: “the kingdom of God is within you.”
When Jesus’ kingdom, his rule of peace, lives within us we bear fruit worthy of repentance.