Second Sunday Of Advent: Like Snakes Fleeing A Storm
Today is the Second Sunday of Advent.
Advent is not just a season of expectation; it's a season of preparation.
And what exactly are we preparing for?
Change? Transformation? New Life?
Do we want to be better people? Do we want the world to be a better place?
All of the above, right?
The Advent season reminds those who find our home in the Christian tradition that it all comes down to Jesus. Jesus makes all the difference---not only for us but for the whole world.
Today we're going to be talking about how the presence of Jesus brings change, and sometimes the needed change isn't easy, and we're going to be hearing a fiery sermon from John the Baptist.
But before we get to our Scripture passage, let me set the tone for what we're talking about today.
Most of us have a universal longing this time of year that can be summed up in one word: Easier.
This time of year, we do everything we can to reduce stress and simplify things. We'll try shopping online, ordering groceries for delivery, so we don't have to fight the crowds, figuring out simplified ways to put up decorations (which I call cheating--go hard or go home, man).
We might even do everything we can to reduce the number of events we have to attend, parties we have to go to, and a host of other hacks to try to keep from losing our minds over the next several weeks.
But isn't the easy way out a bad thing? That's what I was taught, anyway.
"Don't take the easy way out..." So fighting with lights, crowds at the mall, busy airports, and too many obligations is character building, am I right?
I'm joking of course. There's a huge difference between making things manageable and just taking the easy way out. One requires some effort on the front end, and the other requires a ton of effort on the back end.
Who doesn't love an inspirational meme? Let's take a look at some of these...
So if the easy way isn't always the best, why do we always try to choose it?
When we're given the choice of roads to take, and one of them seems straightforward and well-traveled, and the other is wind-y, full of rocks, and looks like it only goes straight up... we usually pick the path that's easier to navigate, and also full of other people going the same way.
The reason we do this is pretty simple: We're afraid of what might have to change if we don't.
Today's Advent reading is from a sermon by John the Baptist, who didn't give his listeners an easy way out regarding the change they desperately needed in their lives and the world around them.
Because what John instinctively knew was that when the Messiah showed up, nothing would ever be the same again. And for those willing to be transformed, there would be hard decisions.
Here's what I want us to hold on to as we move through the rest of the sermon:
WHEN JESUS SHOWS UP, EVERYTHING CHANGES
Our Scripture passage today comes to us from the Gospel of Matthew 3:1-12. Before we dig into this, I want to talk a bit about the person speaking in this text, John the Baptist.
John the Baptist knew the value of spectacle. He was a cousin of Jesus. He was born under miraculous circumstances. He took on the persona of Elijah. Living faithfully, eating kosher, setting up shop in a symbolic place. And preaching repentance because of the immanent arrival of the Messiah.
3:1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Let me ask you something. What one line from that passage really stands out for you? I'm just curious. If it was "brood of vipers... fleeing from a coming storm..." then you and I are definitely on the same page regarding curiosity.
John's critique of the religious elites who were gathered there to listen to him preach, gauge his orthodoxy, and determine who he was and what he was up to because they were worrying over the crowds he was gathering was not a very flattering one.
The word that John repeatedly uses in this passage that is translated as repentance is the Greek word metanoia, which means: about-face, forget, let go, return, and get ready...
There is no easy way out when it comes to metanoia, and John doesn't sugarcoat this, especially for the people who are very religious and ought to know better.
It's not easy to do an about-face when everything you have been taught to believe about the way God works in the world is turned upside down. There's no easy way to let go of the comfort of the status quo when the status quo keeps you comfortable.
John may not have known who the Messiah was at that point---his revelation would come later--but he knew when the Messiah showed up, things were going to be different. He had only an inkling of what was to come---I'm not sure if he would have been able to handle the whole vision of what Jesus would bring.
The presence of Jesus disrupts the status quo, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, and turns everything upside down. There's no easy way to respond to this kind of transformation. There's no easy way out. But if we live more fully into the hope of Advent and the coming of the Messiah, we need to be willing to do some hard things.
What Does Jesus Need To Change In Our Lives?
1. Where do we need to do an about-face?
Are there areas of your life where you realize the easy way has led you to nothing but grief, hardship, indifference, anger... You keep doing the same things and expecting a different result... Maybe it's time to do the hard work of turning around, returning to your true self, and reconnecting with your true purpose.
2. What do we need to let go of?
Are there toxic relationships easier to stay in than get out of? Are their behaviors that you cling to that are leading you to destruction? Beliefs that have kept you from experiencing the fullness of Christ?
3. How can we become the people we long to be?
The Kingdom of God is within us, but do we have a true vision of it? Do we see ourselves as image-bearers of God? We have to change the way we see ourselves, and realize that the hard work of the difficult path is worth it because we're worth it.
WHEN JESUS SHOWS UP, EVERYTHING CHANGES