We have begun our Advent journey. While it is a journey that leads us into the mystery and reality of the Incarnation, it also requires that we keep an eye to the Second Coming, to the promise of God's fulfilled, complete reign. This past Sunday, we were reminded that even when our journeys come upon places of despair, grief, tragedy, and uncertainty, Jesus still offers hope, and this hope must be a key component of our life's navigation.
This Sunday, we hear from the prophet Isaiah once again. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with Isaiah 11:1-10. This Old Testament prophet is essential in grasping the themes of Advent and the promise of the Messiah.
Our gospel reading for Sunday is Matthew 3:1-12:
John the Baptist Prepares the WayIn those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” (New Living Translation)
One of the themes of Advent is urgency, and that is certainly one of John the Baptist's emphases. REPENT! TURN! PREPARE THE WAY! CLEAR THE ROAD! It is clear that John the Baptist has something time-sensitive to communicate. Here are a couple of my initial takeaways:
The imminent arrival of Jesus should cause us to repent. Repentance is something that has fallen out of fashion with many mainline Christians, and there seems to be confusion about what repentance is. Repentance isn't really about being sorry, or about feeling guilty for certain things. Repentance is adopting a mindset and a worldview that seeks total realignment with God's will as expressed in Jesus Christ. There is something so holy, so utterly world-changing about Jesus, John the Baptist tells us that the proper response is repentance.
God's "in-breaking" into the world in the Incarnation brings about a fundamental break from the past and the way things have always been.
There is no more "business as usual." Nothing can ever be the same. All has been shaken. However, there is good news here: God’s judgment and God’s promises are inextricably linked, for while the old has passed away, the new has come — the Kingdom of Heaven and all that it entails. Here, repentance comes into play once again: in Advent, we turn from what was, to what will be in Jesus Christ. We orient ourselves to a new way of living. We no longer swear allegiance to the kingdoms of this world, but find our residency in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Thoughts? Comment below!