Sunday, December 1, 2013

ADVENT Week 2: Prepare To Meet Thy GOD. A Homily for 12.1.13 from Matthew 3:1-12

December 8, 2013
2nd Sunday of Advent,
Year A.
Matthew 3:1-12
(edited and revised from a previous 
Homily posted 11.28.10)

Advent Week Two continues the somber themes of an aching wait for Christ. This week we mark the wait by again emphasizing repentance, which must be part of any genuine Advent preparation. To this end, you will remember we sounded this note last week in our homily from Matthew 24 as well. 

Now, in today’s text we are introduced to the rather odd individual -- John the Baptizer. We have visited with this rugged old prophet many times before. (go here)

I say odd because of what he wore and what he ate, but to the people of his day these strange practices caused him to make much more sense that to us. Through these things they recognized him as wearing the attitude and approach of the Hebrew prophet, a speaker for GOD. 

Apparently, John makes his appearance suddenly, and begins 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 apparently responded to the caustic prophet. Somehow they were attracted to this message of preparation, and they were willing to head out into the deserted Jordan valley in order to embrace the Prophet's message by repenting and experiencing 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) 
But, there was more. Specifically, John calls:

To the common people:
  •     You're sinners!
  •     Admit it!
  •     Be dunked in the Jordan as a way to be included in the      new work GOD is doing.

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

And to both: 
  • The King is on his way. Get Ready!

So, for us today in Advent and at the beginning of the 21st Century, what thoughts are we to take-away from today’s text?


The Baptizer is GOD's speaker; GOD's prophet sent to proclaim the “thus saith the LORD" moment to the people of GOD. In truth, this is a very profound and comforting truth, even though his message is genuinely harsh and confrontational. 

The message is profound in that GOD, who is subject and not object, living in total freedom, was/is under no obligation to touch our rebellious hearts at all, but has chosen not to leave us as orphaned, and has instead chosen to share part of himself with us. Thus, the very presence of the Baptizer tells us the grace of GOD is mightily at work. And, this reality of GOD's continued work is profoundly comforting (the most penetrating expression of this truth is found, of course, not in the Baptizer but in the Christian doctrine of the incarnation).

Had we been working the public relations for GOD, we probably would not have chosen such a Judaean wild man for our spokesman. Which should serve to remind us that we look on the outward appearances (and this is thoroughly 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 not make a prophet. Which means the fact that someone can afford theatre or television time does not necessarily make one a speaker for GOD; neither does having a blog.

The ultimate difference in speakers comes from the ideas within the constellation of calling, faithfulness and anointing.  GOD calls whom he wills — often the meek and the weak — to confound the wise and powerful. The called one seems presumptuous to the outward world — acting in faithfulness on this inward impulse of calling through what can be seen from the outsider as strange practices. Finally, based not upon the faithful spirituality of the called but on action of Divine grace, the speaker is anointed (re: empowered) to proclaim the message of the moment. 

What I always say is this. You recognize an anointed speaker when you hear them or seen them in ministry, but, and this is always the case, the speaker does not recognize the anointing, only the need to be faithful to the received calling. Said differently, if a speaker proclaims their anointing, you can mark it down, they have none. 

Notice how 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 an intense moment of clarity, all who became wet stood on equal ground. You see 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. The choice was theirs to make, as it always is.

No doubt the religious mostly passed by this dunking, having too much to lose by submitting to the Prophetic Utterance, and choosing instead to keep the power of the status quo. But all who had ears to hear, who hungered for GOD and who willingly and humbly submitted to a very public admission of guilt and a very public dunking, all of these were offered the Kingdom. 

And, take special note of how, unexpectedly, even those from the borderline of respectability -- the sinners -- were included in this Kingdom offer. The Prophet's message of, "whosoever will may come," pushed hard against the grain of the regular religious thought among GOD’s chosen people.

Perhaps a deeper way into this idea is simply to ask just whom you wand I would prevent from entering the Kingdom. Which persons from which lifestyle would we exclude. If I am honest, I have my list and my categories, as do you. What must be driven home, both again and again and 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.

To be included in GOD's Kingdom, then (which is powerfully present and also presently future), we must prepare, and this time of preparation is the opportunity offered at Advent! 

That is, we must turn from the ways of the self-life (repentance) and offer our allegiance and our future to the coming King (faith), who has already, powerfully, arrived and who is also, profoundly on his way. These actions of turning and offering allegiance means, therefore, the Kingdom is something to be done, something specific, and something difficult. 

Let's take this thought deeper.  To be included in the Kingdom we must be prepared to receive it. That is what the Baptizer's Repent and be Baptized was all about. We must turn from our old ways and turn to the King and the King’s ways, proving by this turning — which means we bear the fruit of Kingdom acts on our back (take up your cross and follow me) -- that we have faith in the King. That is, finally, the Kingdom is something to be done in faith! 

So, do we believe that the King has come? Have we truly met the living, risen King of Kings? Has the King touched our very existence at its most profound level? If so, then, we will act like it. Not in perfection, of course, but in a sustained obedience in the same direction (from Eugene Peterson).

Listen, in closing, to these three brief Pauline TEXTS, that will us help flesh out this final 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)
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Rom. 12:14-16  NRSV)

May GOD bless the preaching of his Word. 

Let us meditate in silence on what he has said to us.