Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lectionary Notebook Matthew 3:1-12

 Thoughts on the Gospel Reading
2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A
See TEXT below Matthew 3:1-12


Advent Week Two continues the somber themes of an aching wait for Christ, a wait marked by repentance, which is part of our genuine preparation. This was a note we sounded last week from Matthew 24.

Here we are introduced to a rather odd individual -- John the Baptizer. I say odd because of what he wore and what he ate, but to the people of his day he wore the attitude and approach of the prophet, a speaker for GOD. Apparently, John made his appearance suddenly, and began preaching this heavy message, proclaiming the necessity of preparation for the approaching Kingdom of GOD through repentance (a change of mind that leads to a change of action) and baptism (being dipped in water as an expression of GOD’s working in you).

Remarkably, people from all over the region came out to the deserted Jordan valley and heard the Prophet's message and repented and experienced baptism.

His message was simple and profound: “A voice cries out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”(from Isaiah 40:3)

More specifically:

To the people he said:
    1) You're sinners!
    2) Admit it!
    3) Be dunked in the Jordan as a way to be included in the new thing
        GOD is doing.

To the religious he said:
    1) You're like a barrel of snakes
    2) Judgment is coming -- "the axe is at the root" (and that means
         you're included)
    3) Don't presume you're OK just because you are religious
    4) Repent and show it by what you do and how you live

To both he said: The King is on his way. Get Ready!

Thoughts:

GOD HAS HIS SPEAKERS -- BUT NOT WHOM WE WOULD HAVE CHOSEN

The Baptizer is GOD's speaker; GOD's prophet sent to proclaim a “thus saith the LORD" moment to the people. This is actually a very profound and comforting truth, even though his message is genuinely harsh and confrontive. Profound in that GOD, who is under no obligation to touch our rebellious hearts at all, has chosen not to leave us as orphans but instead has chosen to share part of himself with us, which is also deeply comforting. (the most profound expression of this is found in the Christian doctrine of the incarnation)

Of course, we probably would not have chosen a Judaean wild man to speak for us. Which should serve to remind us that we look on the outward appearances (and this is profoundly true) but GOD looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) Said another way, we must be careful not to miss GOD's message because it comes to us in a strange package. Or, said still another way, coiffured hair and pancake make-up that looks gorgeous under klieg lights do make a prophet. Which means the fact that someone can afford television time does not necessarily make one a speaker for GOD; neither does having a blog.

GOD HAS HIS PEOPLE -- BUT NOT WHOM WE WOULD EXPECT

Here the people, hungry for a word from GOD and tired of the religion of the elites, surge to the Prophet and to the baptismal waters, where in a moment all who became wet stood then on equal ground. At the Jordan there were no religious officers or offices, only wet repentant sinners or dry unrepentant ones. All were offered the Kingdom; all were offered new life and a new way to live.

No doubt the religious mostly passed by this dunking, having too much to lose, and choosing instead to keep the status quo. But all else who hungered and who were willing to be humble and to submit to public admission of guilt and a very public dunking, were offered the Kingdom. And, unexpectedly, even those from the borderline of respectability were included in this Kingdom offer.

Perhaps a deeper way into this thought is simply to ask whom you would prevent from entering the Kingdom. If I am honest, I have my list and my categories, don't you? What must be driven home to the deepest place in our hearts is that, if we have learned anything about the Almighty (and I'm not sure we know as much a we think we do),  he offers the Kingdom to all -- to everyone -- and one must literally say no to this offer to miss it.

GOD HAS HIS KINGDOM -- BUT IT IS NOT HOW WE WOULD RULE

To be included in GOD's Kingdom, then (which is now here and also on the way), we must prepare. We must turn from the ways of the self-life and offer our allegiance and our future to the coming King, who is also already arrived. Profoundly, therefore, the Kingdom is something to be done, something specific, something difficult. To be part of the Kingdom -- to prepare to receive it -- we turn from our old ways and turn to the King and the King’s ways, proving this turning by bearing Kingdom acts on our back (take up your cross and follow me). That is, finally, the Kingdom is something to be done!

Listen to these three brief Pauline TEXTS that help flesh out this idea:

"Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:12-13 NRSV)

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Eph. 2:8-10 NRSV)

"If people persecute you because you are a Christian, don't curse them; pray that God will bless them. When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. Live in harmony with each other. Don't try to act important, but enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!" (Rom. 12:14-16 NLT)



Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths. 
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair 
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
 
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves, 
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you, 
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit 
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, 
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor 
and gather his wheat into his barn, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”