THEME: Prophecy, promises, and preparation
This week we will explore what it means to allow God’s new world to take hold of us.
Prophecy, promises, and preparation – all are part of the Advent tradition. They serve as reminders in this hectic season that there is more to prophecy than guessing what is in this package; more to promises than what Santa Claus will bring; more to preparation than cleaning house and putting on a spread for a holiday party.
On this second Sunday of Advent, we are called back to the longing, not for a certain present, but for a messiah who brings about a beloved community of harmony and peace—but not without opposition. These passages speak of wishes, desires, and the hint of fulfillment that is Christmas. We need to hear, believe, and get ready.
How are your preparing? Harsh, Urgent, Concrete
Why must John the Baptist ruin my Christmas?!
Only 2 Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ birth – ALL the Gospels have John the Baptist…all four of them.
How will you prepare for Christmas?
Christmastime is a time of preparation for gift-giving, parties, Christmas Eve bulletins. John also brings a message of preparation: “Change your heart and lives, for the Kingdom of God is near!” Not a message of guilt, but of seizing opportunity. How will you prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven?
Repentance is an invitation to a new way of life which is demonstrated by its fruits. Being a son of Abraham or being born again isn’t enough- your life must change and your actions must bear out that reorientation. Are you willing to be changed by the good news?
John’s message is harsh – you brood of vipers “When vipers are hatched, they remain together, until they begin to mature. But if something threatens them, they spread out and flee…Something has warned them of the wrath to come, and they are leaving the comfort and security of their lives.”
John’s message is urgent – the axe is at the base of the tree
John’s message is concrete – repent- change your heart and mind
As John the Baptiser prepared God’s people for the Messiah, so he prepares us, in this Advent season, to receive God’s Reign in a deeper way. The Lectionary this week calls us to anticipate the new order that is established by God’s Messenger, as well as the peace and well-being that we find in God’s new world.
One thing that this “voice in the wilderness” made very clear is that God’s Reign is not just a “place” or a “state of being” that we receive passively.
Although we become citizens of God’s Reign purely by grace, when we become part of God’s new world, God’s new world becomes part of us.
This means that who we are, what we think, how we feel, and how we behave are all shaped and formed by the values and purposes of God’s Reign. It’s not just Jesus that we invite into our hearts, but God’s new way of being. And when this happens, God’s new world begins to be reflected in us as it flows through every dream, every interaction, and every moment of our lives. This is why we are never born into God’s Reign. We are only ever born again into it – it requires a remaking of who we are, a true baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire!
It should not be surprising that John the Baptiser preached exactly the same message as Jesus. Compare verse 2 of today’s reading with Matthew 4:17.
Both John and Jesus held this simple, but life-changing, message at the centre of their mission.
It consists of two simple statements that must always go together: 1) God’s Reign is near (or “at hand” or accessible and available) and 2) Repent (which simply means change).
This is not about getting to heaven after we die. This message is all about experiencing a whole new way of being now, in this life.
These two messengers of God proclaimed that God’s new world was not a pipe dream but was available and accessible to us now – we can experience it and participate in bringing it into being.
Then they explained how we can experience it – by changing. When we give up our devotion to the systems and values of human society and take on the values and purpose of God’s Reign, we have repented, and we begin to manifest God’s Reign in our own lives.
Notice two things about John’s message to the religious leaders, though. Firstly, he told them that it was not enough for them to be “children of Abraham”. John warns against “resting on your laurels.” It is not enough to just claim Abraham as your Father. A changed heart has to follow.
Their human ancestry, and their position in the religious community did not automatically mean that they were participants in God’s Reign.
In the same way, it is not our family, or church, or religious affiliation that makes us part of God’s Reign.
Secondly, he told them that they would need Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire.
They would need God’s power, and the refining work of God’s Spirit to cleanse and equip them to live this new way.
We need exactly the same empowerment from God.
Repent – metanoia, literally, “Change your whole self”
Preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven
Not about guilt or acknowledging your depravity, but aligning yourself to God and Christ
These are people that are coming to be baptized by him, and he warns them not come with simply a desire to be baptized. This isn’t some “get clean quick” scheme.
The declaration that a ritual is not enough is consistent with the other prophets (cf. Isaiah 1)
Water isn’t enough, but a total change of heart is what is needed.
“Bearing fruit” is the key to John’s message. The only way to know if there has been repentance, is with fruit.
Today, allow God’s fire to cleanse you and change your attitudes and motivations, and then allow God’s Spirit to fill you and empower you to live with new actions – those of God’s Reign.
Do: It doesn’t take long, when we start to follow Jesus, to realise that we don’t have what it takes in ourselves to live God’s way. Our negative, broken attitudes and our destructive habits have too strong a hold on us. That’s why we need to develop the habit of constantly invoking God’s Spirit to cleanse and empower us. Go through today with a constant invocation in your heart.
Pray: Holy Spirit, cleanse me with your fire and empower me with your presence, I pray.