Second Sunday of Advent; Matthew 3:1-12
Every year on this Second Sunday of Advent we hear from John the Baptist. One of the things early Christian writers, such as the Evangelists, tried to do was show that Christianity, or this following of Jesus, wasn't a new-fangled religion that just mysteriously dropped out of the sky. It was, in reality, an extension of the Jewish faith. We see this with the genealogies in Mathew and Luke that recall the genealogies found in the Hebrew scriptures. We see it in John's prologue with its obvious ties to the first creation story of Genesis. And we see it on this Second Sunday of Advent with John the Baptist.
John is presented as the last prophet of Israel before the coming of the Messiah, and his description fits the prototypical image of a prophet. He can be found out in the wilderness, which is where Elijah spent a lot of his time. He called the religious leaders to account for mishandling their faith, just as Elijah took on Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal. His diet of locusts and wild honey indicate he didn't accept food from others, recalling the story of Elijah being fed not by people but by ravens sent from God.
As a side note, I found an article that said the detail about locusts and wild honey isn't about John's diet. Instead it symbolized God's actions as found in the Hebrew scriptures. The locusts symbolize a sign of things to come and God's judgment upon a sinful people, especially as found in the prophet Joel and his vision of destroying locusts. The honey symbolizes a repentance and returning to the richness of God, recalling the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey.
John is presented as a prophet of Israel preparing the way of the Lord. He is here to make it easier for the King to travel the land: “Make his paths straight.”
While he is out in the wilderness preaching repentance and the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, people from all over the region come to listen to him and be baptized. It's not only the general population who come out, but Pharisees and Sadducees as well. And when John sees them he launches into his famous, “Brood of Vipers” speech. With a fiery passion he admonishes them to repent and says the wheat will be gathered up but the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire.
I've preached on both of these things before – the brood of vipers and the burning of the chaff – so I won't repeat myself. Today I want to focus on his statement, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” What exactly is fruit worthy of repentance?
I suppose, on the one hand, you could follow Martin Luther's misquoted advice to sin boldly. I mean, if you're going to have something worthy of repenting, you might as well go back to Paul's list from last week and begin living in revelry, drunkenness, debauchery, and licentiousness. Now THOSE are sins worthy of repentance.
Call me crazy, but I don't think that's what John had in mind. Bearing fruit worthy of repentance is not about living in a manner that requires repentance. Instead it's about living in a manner reflective of a changed life. It's about living in a way that shows repentance does work.
Advent was, and still is in some places, a penitential season. It was seen as a min-Lent. In the same way that Lent is a wilderness season calling us to self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial as we prepare to make a right beginning with the resurrected Christ, Advent calls us to prepare for a right beginning at the coming of our Lord. Over the years, though, this penitential nature of Advent has been lost to some extent as we have begun to focus more and more on preparing for Christmas. While this isn't a bad thing, it's not the only thing.
Don't get me wrong. It's not a bad thing to prepare for Christmas. It's not a bad thing to ponder the event of the incarnation, when God Almighty chose to dwell on earth as one of us. One theologian whom I can't name said that between the incarnation and the resurrection, the incarnation was the greater miracle.
A science video I watched pointed out the scale in size of earth to Jupiter and then to the sun. It then compared the sun to the largest known star. Then to the galaxy. Then to the universe. All of that was to show how insignificant we humans on this little blue dot really are. But it is not an insignificant thing for him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and who turns deep darkness into the morning to be made man.
We must remember that Advent is a two-fold season – a season of the already and not yet, a season of activity and a season of waiting. We certainly need to prepare for the night love came down and where angels led the shepherds to find a newborn baby boy and his mother. But we also must prepare for the demands that love makes upon us. We must not simply prepare for the sentimentality of a Holy Night, but we must also prepare to make the changes required to live in a holy relationship.
John is here to remind us that true repentance must not be subject to procrastination, because the kingdom of heaven has indeed come near.
In our preparations for the coming of our Lord during this Advent season, may we repent of those things which take us away from the love of God. May we repent of those things which prevent us from showing the love of God to others. May we repent of those things which favor worldly desires over holy kingdom goals.
In the midst of our preparations for Christmas, may we not bear fruit that requires repenting, but may we bear fruit worthy of that repentance.