Wilderness-Tending Time

December 4, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
2nd Sunday in Advent – Year A
Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

(Gospel Text provided below)

Bugle blast – 3 times

Sing Godspell intro:

gospell-albumPrepare ye the way of the Lord.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

This is how the 1970’s Broadway musical, Godspell, begins. Then comes the booming drum fill with crashing cymbals ripping through the silence, enlivening the procession as the tempo takes flight!

When I was in Junior High School, my youth group enacted a version of Godspell at our 9am Sunday worship service. As the bugle and soloist gave way to the drums and cymbals, the pantomime cast, including me, dressed in colorful clothes and clown make -up, careened through the aisles of the church. This high-velocity, energetic entrance was quite a shock for the mostly buttoned-up, unsuspecting, stoic congregation.

1976 Godspell_049McC

I always think of our Godspell production when I hear today’s gospel story. As startling as the bugle blast you just heard, we find John the Baptist in the wilderness crying out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Now, it is only Matthew’s version of this story that includes the detail that John was wearing camel hair and a leather belt. You see, Matthew’s gospel was written for a mostly Hebrew audience and intends to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient Hebrew prophesies. So, to these early listeners, this image of John would harken back to the prophet Elijah, described in 2 Kings as “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” (2 Kg 1:8).

In our Old Testament reading today, we heard from another prophet, Isaiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding… (Is 11:1-2a)

This is the foretelling of Jesus. Jesus is the “shoot (or descendant) from Jesse,” who was King David’s father. It is in Matthew’s gospel that we hear again and again, as stories of Jesus are told, that “this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophets.”

In the same way, the crying out by John the Baptist is likened to another passage from Isaiah. The gospel version says that John the Baptist’s cry for repentance is:

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 

But the actual passage in Isaiah is worded this way:

A voice cries out:  

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Is 40:3)

So, in Isaiah, the wilderness isn’t the place the voice is coming from, instead, the wilderness is where we are to prepare the way of the Lord. Read the rest of this entry »

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