Posted on Tue, Dec 10, 2013
December 8, 2013
Second Sunday in Advent
Gospel Text: Matthew 3:1-12
“Rise like the Phoenix”
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’* 3This 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.” ’ 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 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? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do 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. 10Even now the axe 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. 11 ‘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. 12His 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.’
Reverend Ole was the pastor of the local Norwegian Lutheran Church in Minnesota, and Pastor Sven was the minister of the Swedish Covenant Church across the river in Wisconsin. One day they were seen pounding a sign into the ground, that said:
'DA END ISS NEAR! TURN YERSELF AROUND NOW BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE'
As a car sped past them, the driver leaned out his window and yelled, "Leave us alone, you religious nuts!"
From the curve he heard screeching tires and a big splash. Rev. Ole turns to Pastor Sven and asks "Do ya tink maybe da sign should yust say 'Bridge Out'?"
In one workshop associated with the synod I attended, called the Emotional Intelligence Workshop, I found myself participating in a rather intense group talking about their experience in the ministry. There were many stories of success and failures, struggles and even victories. When it came time for each person to share, there was quiet respect and very focused ears. There were times when the group would clap for the person who just opened their heart to their life struggles. It was amazing, and even ‘refreshing’ experience to hear such brutal honesty being shared.
However, there were also some times when you could tell the person was trying to avoid something, or hide something, or pin the blame for their problems or failures on someone else or some other circumstance. After these kind of sharing’s you could feel the tension in the air… all of us in the groups have heard it all and when someone was just trying to hide something or lie to themselves… everybody could tell. Our instructor definitely wouldn't tolerate this kind of self-dishonesty… and along with the group they didn’t allow this to just sit and fester, they began to probe until honesty would win the day and bubble up. The meetings were long and absolutely exhausting, there was no judging. It was all about identifying and letting go of what we were afraid to accept was reality and holding us in a world of darkness and learning how to accept forgiveness so that we could throw it away and become free.
I love this text! Notice where Matthew claims the people had come from to hear John the Baptizer! I love the hyperbole that Matthew uses to help us understand the extent all human beings from far and wide need to come before the Word of God, come clean with themselves and then know that they were still created for a purpose and are totally cherished by God…
The problem is when people read this text incorrectly and begin to compare themselves with the chaff and become convinced, because there is so much garbage holding onto their hearts and minds that they are sure no better than the unusable part of the grain destined and deserving nothing better than hellfire and brimstone! When we feel lost or hopeless, I am amazed how quickly we decide we just aren’t worth saving or healing…
But there is not one person in this world that does not need someone sometime to share with, to listen to, or to lean upon. Everyone needs someone to confess to, and hear that they are loved, appreciated and has been put on this planet for a purpose!
According to Matthew people essentially came from all over Palestine to hear that they needed to turn their lives around! It wasn’t “turn your life around and GET YOUR LIFE TOGETHER!” It was TURN YOUR LIFE AROUND and KNOW THAT GOD WILL REMOVE THE JUNK THAT WEIGHS YOU DOWN AND WILL MAKE YOU CLEAN AND USEFUL AGAIN!”
“Getting your life together!” has no meaning in this text as this phrase still insinuates that it is only you who can pick yourself up, only you can do what is necessary to atone for your sins, and it is only you who can ‘heal yourself’ forgive yourself and make yourself new again…” Only focusing on ourselves is what got us into the problems we have in the first place! What John is demanding is for us to understand what we need is a “God-Intervention!” Whether we like it or not, God is the Redeemer, the Savior, the Final Word… And God is coming!
This is why John lays into the Pharisees and Sadducees; they seem to think that they have the ‘right pedigree,’ being related to Abraham, therefore in no need of repentance. “Oh, we are related to ‘so-and-so,’ we have this social status, we believe in the correct and traditional religious ways, we have the right color of skin, we have the right sexual orientation, we have the right connections in society, we drive the right car… blah, blah, blah.” the list of self-justification goes on and on. People continue to create self-justification pedigrees even to this day! As far as I am concerned the longer the list we have for self-justification, the more limbs we need to chop from our tree… the more garbage that surrounds our heart and minds that needs to be thrown into the furnace. (That is why I love the story about the king with no clothes.)
But the truth is, we need to be cleansed of all the chaff in our lives. But we need to understand we are not the chaff, we as God’s Children are the fruit UNDERNEATH that chaff, and the prophet was right that it is only God who has the power to help us cut out the lies, the masks and all that seems to want to convince us of who we are NOT!
There were basically two groups listening to John, according Matthew, there were farmers and soldiers. They knew the process for removing the unneeded chaff from the wheat; it was hard and laborious, but necessary if it was to be sold and eaten. The soldiers had bronze or some other metals to create their weapons, armor and shields. You didn’t use water to clean or repair them, you used fire… hot fire; and every time you burned off the ‘waste material’ at the end of your spear, you made the steal stronger. I’m not talking just about blood and gore, I am talking about the oxidation or rust that may form on the end of your weapon, and fire was the only way to truly clean it. These two groups came to hear John, and they easily understood his metaphors.
What would John use to clean your heart, mind and soul? There is something in each one of us that needs to be identified, confessed, and CUT OUT of our lives so that we can be freed to become the fruit or fine metal that can be used to nourish and change the world. There is something in each one of us that needs to be shaken, crushed, burned, or removed so that the fruit or true metal within us can come out and either nourish others or be used in such a way that people are blessed.
I am absolutely amazed at how quickly time goes by, and how quickly one event passes from one season to the next… all the while we seem to collect more and more barnacles and junk on our heart and minds. We get distracted by our desire to ignore or shove these problems under the rug where we think we cannot see them, even though we know they are still there. Now is the time to talk if we need to talk, now is the time to pray, now is the time to confess so that God can cut out all that blinds us from seeing and believing the true miracle that is about to appear…. The Word will become Flesh!
God, the promise of Love and Grace will become a human being that can look into our eyes and see our heart. God will be able to see past the garbage, and will offer mercy enough to cast away fear and shame and replace it with our true identity, Children of God. Amen.
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