8 December 2019, 10:30 AM, BAS Holy Eucharist
Parish of St. John the Baptist Anglican Church, North Sydney
The Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, who sent your servant John the Baptist
to prepare your people to welcome the Messiah,
inspire us, the ministers and stewards of your truth,
to turn our disobedient hearts to you,
that when the Christ shall come again to be our judge,
we may stand with confidence before his glory;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
In the name of God: +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Joe sits downs with his friend Fred who he knows is a musical genius. Joe asks Fred about his musical talent. “It is true,” says Fred. “I was a musical prodigy. I composed a complete opera at three. I wrote a minuet at four. I wrote a complete symphony at five. Then…at five-thirty…I went down and had a cuppa tea.”
Opera at three…minuet at four…symphony at five…tea at five-thirty.
It’s easy to make assumptions when listening. We hear one thing. But, the speaker intends for us to hear something else. Joe might have thought that Fred was talking about age. At age three the opera was written, the minuet at age four, and so on. But, no. Fred composed the opera at 3:00, his minuet at 4:00, and the complete symphony at 5:00. All was done in time for tea at 5:30.
When we realize this, we’ve made an adjustment and have come to the intended understanding. Making an adjustment is one of the primary themes of the Gospels. We are all called to align our lives according to the Gospels.
Matthew’s Gospel is concerned with righteousness and obedience – this requires a realignment of our lives – to God’s will. Matthew is a bridge builder between the Old and New Testaments. Because of this, it is the Gospel most frequently used by the early church. Matthew is quick to point out the tension between Jewish piety and corrupt religious leaders. Consider, for example, Jesus’ faithfulness that conflicts with the establishment. Jesus comes as the righteous, obedient one. Jesus comes as the adjusted one.
Now, when Matthew writes John the Baptist’s stern alarm, “Repent!” Matthew is sounding a prophetic call. This call has been sounded by earlier Prophets. Ezekiel, from the Old Testament, for example, admonishes: “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.” (Ez 18:30b, NASB).
When we hear from John the Baptist, “Repent!” Do we hear him crying out to us, “It is time for an adjustment, a realignment. Change your lives! The kingdom of heaven has come near.” It is now time for a new beginning and a new relationship with God. The coming of the kingdom of heaven marks the establishment of the beginning of the new age of God’s ultimate dominion. John heralds the coming of the king who establishes the new age of God’s dominion.
John factors heavily into Matthew’s Gospel as one who anticipates the coming Messiah. John prepares all he encounters for Jesus’ arrival. John is the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said: “The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” This one who call from the wilderness is about what comes next.
When John warns of wrath and the judgment to come, he cautions about God’s final judgment. Here he is speaking specifically of the Pharisees and Sadducees who come, wanting John to baptize them.
“You brood of vipers…” Here John compares them to baby vipers. Back in the day, it was believed that baby vipers ate through their mother’s stomachs in order to be born; and in so doing, they kill their mothers. So, the brood is born motherless. This is a strong rebuke from John. It is harsh criticism of the Pharisees and Sadducees. So far have they gone from where they ought to be that John is saying, their behavior is as if they never had a mother.
Instead, turn…readjust. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 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.” (Matt 8:8,10b NRSV). Receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. This is the baptism of purification.
Receive God’s purification so that when Christ comes he will receive us.
Receive Christ, as our Collect Prayer for this, the Second Sunday of Advent, says: so that when the Christ shall come again to be our judge, we may stand with confidence before his glory, who is alive and reigns with God and the Holy Spirit as One.
The alignment, the turning that John the Baptist cries out, is about God’s radical transformation of creation through the one who is coming. No doubt, many of you are familiar with these words: When Christ shall come, With shouts of acclamation, And take me home, What joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow In humble adoration And there proclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”
When Christ comes, it will be the final return from exile. It will be the full realization of the gifts of the Holy Spirit announce by the Prophet Isaiah: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge; total respect, humility, awe and submission to God.
When Christ comes at last, “The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11:9b).
I speak to you in the name of God: +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.