Emmitsburg Council of Churches

 
 
 
 

The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

Even now the ax 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. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

The Gospel of the Lord 


Visions and Expectations in Advent

A voice cries out in the wilderness, "Prepare the Way of the Lord! . . . Make his paths straight!" Alleluia!

On this second Sunday of advent, we recognize that we're on a similar type of journey as those pilgrims who ventured out to see and hear John the Baptist in the Judean Wilderness. We are as they were, Filled with anticipation about what this wild desert prophet was preaching about.

And today we also bear witness to the "new thing" God is about to do and our anticipation is converted to actions as we listen to John the Baptist and we are moved to prepare ourselves and our world for the coming of Christ.

We are at the beginning of a new year for the church. We can feel our sense of joy rising as an additional candle is lit on the Advent wreath each Sunday, and we hear more about the coming of Emmanuel, the Christ, the chosen one of God Ė come to be our Savior. Perhaps you also sense that something is getting ready to happen . . . but there is a subtle energy that is building "out there". It goes beyond us, we cannot really place where it comes from, but we know that it is happening. It is the mystery of the ages that is about to unfold in a way that none of us could have imagined. "The Dawn from on high shall break upon us" -- it is coming, the Dayspring of God lies in wait, it is just beyond our sight. And John is telling us to get ready for the culmination of this Energy while the Church calendar simultaneously reminds us that "It has come". Yet our understanding of this wonderful event is to be renewed during this season of Advent.

Another way to describe this Energy is in the power of longing for something. Longing for something different; longing for something new; or longing for something better than what we have known. "Behold, I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth. Do you perceive it?" (Isaiah 43:19)

The Advent season reminds us of that time when we enter into an auditorium where a great orchestra is about to perform. We can hear the sound of the musical instruments and we can feel the tension of the musicians as they anxiously prepare themselves for the opening volley of the concert. Listening to the chaotic notes played as different musicians rehearse various measures of a piece, we catch small glimpses of the great work soon to be played by all. Through the movement of bows and the trill of silver instruments we prepare our ears to listen for the glad sound of the harmony to come. 

This is like Advent, when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. There's a nervous excitement in the air, and it keeps building in a crescendo that will peak when we hear the good news of the Savior's birth. When God's peace comes to earth and all is at rest in the earth. But before the sweet sounds of the symphony reach our waiting ears, we must wait out the time of preparation. For each of the musicians, this time has been long in coming -- the years of rehearsals and study may have seemed like an eternity and in the midst of warming up, there is discord and even chaos . . . .

John's rugged presence at this time of the Church year reminds us that there are still many rough places needing smoothing, not just in our personal lives, but rough places in the very structure of what we name as our society . . . "our way of doing things". And certainly the world is not in harmony. "Why do the nations rage so furiously together??!" When will the peaceful vision of Isaiah be fulfilled? That time when the lion shall lie down together with the lamb and the children shall play over the snake's den without harm or danger. (Isaiah 11:6-9) "How Long O Lord??"

We're in a season of preparation, we are to cleanse ourselves, we are to get ready for the coming of God's kingdom.

I remember when I was a teenager, how the excitement of seeing an old friend who lived in Rhode Island filled me with anticipation. For me, there was a special form of energy that was connected with the excitement of seeing a friend who had moved far away from the neighborhood where I grew up -- once a rural countryside in Montgomery County Maryland. Those days of growing up left me with good memories about my childhood buddies. I would ride my bike about a half mile to David and Karlís house, mostly uphill. 

We had many adventures -- we shared camp outs, mud battles, river adventures, and old bottle collecting around the old farmsteads nearby where we lived. However, by age eighteen, I was riding my bicycle to David's house in Rhode Island from Maryland. It was about the fifteenth day of the bicycle trip. Karl and I had planned this trip for months in advance, and now we were almost to David's house -- an important milestone for the 2.5 month journey we were on. As we got to within seventy miles or so of Kingston, Rhode Island . . . we were so filled with anticipation that the pedaling seemed unusually easy. 

We were proud of ourselves that we had the energy and stamina to make it this far on our journey . . . or was it really our doing at all?? Did we actually develop the motivation within ourselves to pedal all those miles? Maybe, maybe not . . . because it was the longing that motivated us, and the anticipation of the joyful reunion that was about to take place that kept us pedaling. Our exertion was literally powered by the thoughts of seeing our old friend, David, and that he would be glad to see us.

This type of Motivation was founded in a relationship, the energy came from our knowing that the friend that we would see was also waiting with anticipation of our arrival. Through relationship with God, we are spurred on to "prepare the way of the Lord" because we know his coming brings peace to the world -- and in our preparations, by the Spirit, we make the way for peace and for love to come and thrive on the earth.

About Patience

In this Advent Season of anticipation and longing, our hearts now yearn for the renewal of God's grace and mercy to the brokenness of the world today. Yet, like we were told when we were young, we have to wait. "PATIENCE" is a virtue and is the word of the day!

"The value of the gift is in the waiting." Gifts given before their time are less valued, and not given at the proper time a gift will lose the significance of the event that we are celebrating. So how do we wait?

On waiting/anticipating

Perhaps you have known the feelings of anticipation that accompany times when a particular gift is expected to arrive, especially when youíre a kid or maybe itís a romantic gift that comes later in life. Actually we adults like a surprise gift now and then and may even buy something for ourselves--after all, these days its our patriotic duty. (Thank you Mr. Bush!) Just don't overspend! Our minds can run wild with thoughts of specially wrapped packages, or a UPS delivery person wrestling with a large package with your name on it. Maybe you have gotten so caught up in anxious thoughts about the arrival of something that you dreamed of "Doug", the UPS man on TV (Bigger-than-life!) "Doug!" bounding up your side walk with that special something that has your name on it!

There are also feelings of excitement for the sender of a gift. In the careful preparations for gift-sending -- we may imagine each moment of gratitude and emotion that will be felt by the recipient -- this is also an expression of the wonderment and anticipation of the special moment when God comes, Emmanuel, and serves to illustrate for us about preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, God's gift for all.

However, we all know what its like to get that "unexpected gift" . . . the one we "did not" ask for -- or were not "prepared for". Our preparations for the coming of God in Christ must be made carefully -- with great consideration. Its GOD that we're talking about here! Will we welcome Christ when "one of the least of these my brethren" is standing in front of us asking for help? Will we recognize Godís presence in our homes beyond the Christmas tree and the bows and cards?

A voice cries out in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!" Notice how these words, PREPARE and MAKE, do not leave any room for questioning as to what is we're being told to do.

The people hearing John's preaching are being clearly instructed to do things as they had not been doing before, high places would need to be brought down low and low places needed to be exalted. These are poetic words that speak of Justice and Equity being practiced in religion as well as in political institutions. ** If God is coming to dwell among us, we have got to make a better world. We have got to treat people as brother, sister, mother and father. We have got to treat God's Creation as though we were planning for Christ to grow up as a child in this world. He might live in the lot next door, or he might be living in China, or Russia, or Palestine (can you imagine?!). There is much preparation to be done.

Our task is to Listen for the Voice of God -- God's voice can break through to us, and can carry us beyond the wilderness where we so often find ourselves. And so whether we are in need of going to the wilderness to receive a baptism of repentance or if we are presently lost in a wilderness were we cannot hear the voice of God . . . we are called by God to be patient and to learn to trust. Waiting is part of the plan.

The Christ who has come and the Christ who will come tests our faith with fire. This same fire will burn away our fears and the falsities that would separate us from God's love and goodness. The Messiah is to come and we will know God. For the Creator of the universe will be revealed by His Son, Jesus Christ, come to earth as a tiny baby. Amen

May the Peace of God be born in us as we wait patiently for his coming.

Amen

Read more writings of Pastor Jon