Advent 2 A, December 4, 2016, Gretchen Rehberg
What is the good news we offer this world? What is the Gospel message we proclaim? The message we proclaim matters. The way we offer the good news matters.
This morning John the Baptist proclaims the message of repentance. Jesus is about to start his public ministry and John is the prophet sent to call the people to prepare.
Advent, and so we too are called to prepare. Prepare for Jesus to come into our midst, prepare for God to walk with us. This morning we are with those who hear the words of John, the words which call us to repent. Many heard his words, we hear that crowds went out to the Jordan, called and convicted by John’s words, drawn by his message they left their homes and went out to repent, to mark that repentance, that change of life, by baptism in the Jordan.
Some folks who came however, were considered suspect by John. “You brood of vipers.” Perhaps not the most welcoming of words! “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I can just imagine looking in amazement at John and replying “you did John! You warned us, you called us we heard your words and came, do you think that we are beyond repentance?”
Now Mathew is clearly setting up the rest of the story, telling us right from the start that these will be the opponents of Jesus, implying that their repentance is not sincere. But I think it is useful to consider whether there are people we would be suspicious of, people who we would not really be happy if they responded to the call and showed up. Who is it you really don’t want sitting in the pews next to you?
I always struggle a bit with John the Baptist! I am not sure I want him sitting in the pews next to me! He always strikes me as way to much hell fire and damnation, too much wrath, too much punishment. His words that call us to prepare for Jesus usually strike me as different from the message of Jesus. And yet he is so important to our Advent time, he is a fundamental piece of our preparation. So how can we hear his words, all of his words, and find meaning in those words for our lives today?
Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
Turn around, go in a different direction! The kingdom of heaven has come near but you won’t see it if you keep going the way you are going! Repent is not simply saying “sorry.” To repent is to change, to turn, to return to God. To repent is to stop what you are doing and turn to something else. And why would we do this – because what we are looking for is right here, the kingdom of heaven has come near! I hear these words and think about those times when I plug in a destination into my gps system and set off. Somehow, as I travel, I get off the assigned road, and then my gps starts talking to me – “recalculating, recalculating.” I have told the gps where I want to go, now it is telling me I am off track. John the Baptist is telling the people, telling us, that we are off track and we need to get back on track. We can hear his words as judgement, or as guidance, and all of us need guidance.
You brood of vipers who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Are we willing to accept the guidance given, or are we coming out to hear John’s words simply for the sake of public appearance? Why do we do what we do? Do we show up simply because it is the thing to do, not out of a sincere desire to hear the words, to learn, to see, to embrace the kingdom that is present. John asks us to be honest about our motivations. Perhaps it is our motivations that need to turn around, to repent!
Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
We turn to God, we repent – return to the kingdom of God, and in doing so the fruit, the work of our lives is changed. Isaiah and Paul speak to this fruit of repentance – the fruit of peace, the fruit of righteousness and faithfulness, the fruit of welcoming and unity, the fruit of joy and peace in believing.
Do not presume to say we have Abraham as our ancestor.
We are children of God, we are beloved, we are saved. We have nothing we need to do in order to earn or prove God’s love. Yet we are not to sit around and be arrogant about that fact, we are not to claim the status of beloved and without it from others. We are not supposed to claim other sorts of status either. I am a cradle Episcopalian. I told that fact to a friend one day – she looked at me and said “so is that supposed to mean something.” Quite rightly she was gently telling me that I was acting as if an accident of birth gave me special status. Our status is to be given only by being a child of God.
I baptize you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John knew who he was, he was the one coming to proclaim the advent of the messiah, he was the one who would baptize you with water. John knew who he wasn’t, he was not the Messiah, he was not the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Identity is just as much about knowing who we are not as knowing who we are. We are not God. We are not the Savior. We are not called to take on the work of God, simply the work that God has given us.
This Advent we hear the words of John as he calls us to see the Kingdom which has come among us, to turn and be fully present to the reality of God in our midst. We are to live into the kingdom life, the life of peace and harmony and welcome and joy. We are to prepare for Christ to be to come among us again this day, and every day.
This Advent we also hear the call to proclaim ourselves the good news of the Kingdom, the Gospel message. How shall we offer this hurting world the message of John, how shall we call out to the people in our communities the words of the good news. Do we proclaim in such a way that all the people come out to the river and join in that good news? Do we hold up the vision of the kingdom so that people can see and be drawn into that vision.
To be creative and compelling witnesses to Jesus Christ is our call. To witness to Jesus Christ in a way that people in our day and time can hear that message. To live in such a way that our witness is compelling. To always remember that it is Jesus that we proclaim, not ourselves.
This advent let us do whatever is needed to turn and see again the God who is with us.
This advent let us hear our own call to proclaim the good news, and offer a witness to that good news in our own lives.
This advent let us live fully into the glorious vision of the kingdom of God.