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Sunday in Advent (cycle a) 

Texts & Discussion:
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12


Other Resources:


Matthew Henry,    Wesley

Word Study:

This Week's Themes:

The Coming Reign of Messiah
Peace and Hope in Christ
Preparing Our Hearts for Christ


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Ready to Change
Matthew 3:1-12, Isaiah 11:1-10
HW in HI

John the Baptist might have made a typical American, but he was not a typical Israelite. There was nothing typical about John the Baptist. He lived in the wilderness. But it was well known in those days that demons inhabited the wilderness. Maybe if you had a good reason, you might travel there with a group of your kin – your family – but one certainly did not live in the wilderness. And John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Weird. This is not what was worn and this is not what was eaten. Not in Israel, not 2,000 years ago.

John probably would have been an okay American. You know, a rugged individualist, lover of the outdoors. Sort of a John Muir, Sierra Club kind of guy. And maybe he would be a good member of generation X. The scripture doesn’t say whether or not he pierced his body somewhere or other, but the camel’s hair clothing and eating bugs – that could be generation x.

So what on earth is going on? Why are people flocking to him? They’re coming in droves. Well, Israel did have a great history of prophets. In the past, prophets had warned of captivity if the Israelites did not turn toward God. And here was John the Prophet, baptizing people, and calling them to confess their sins and change their ways.

The author of the gospel, Matthew, has figured things out. He tells us that the prophet Isaiah told us that John would come: "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.'" Well, John was in the wilderness. No doubt about that. And he told the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And they did. They came in droves and were baptized.

Some of the people who came seemed to be coming for the wrong reasons. They weren’t repenting. They just wanted to get baptized. Actually, we still see that today. People will call up the church and say, “We want to get our baby baptized.” Baptism is a good and beautiful thing. With baptism we become a full member of the church. But often times these are people who have no intention of turning their lives to God, and so baptism doesn’t make any sense. Usually we suggest they start coming to church, so that the promises they make are real promises. This is a problem faced by just about every church, but John had it first.

John, however, doesn’t mince words. He says things to these people that I hope no clergy would ever say. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John probably could not have done a better job of insulting them. He insults their heritage and their honor and social standing all at once. They are the illegitimate children of snakes. John the Baptist was hurling the first “Yo Mama” insult. Something like, “Yo mama wears army boots.” But worse.

John has a point to make. He tells them, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Which is to say, confess your sins and start acting like children of God, not children of snakes. And he tells them, “Don’t think just because you’re good Israelites, that you’ve got it made. You don’t. Your heritage is no guarantee that you will be a child of God. If necessary, God will raise up children from elsewhere.” Actually, he says: “If necessary, God will raise up children from stones.” John had guts. He was blunt, and he pretty much didn’t care whom he insulted. The people he was condemning were good keepers of the Torah. But John told them, “So what?” They were of the right heritage. . But John told them, “So what?” They knew all the right people. [continue]