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 »

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

2nd Sunday of Advent – Year A RCL

Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

Advent is a time of waiting…

It is a time of hopeful anticipation and cheerful expectation of God breaking into our lives anew!
The reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans says, “Whatever was written in the former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”

The lesson from Isaiah describes even more fully what is hoped for. Saying that The spirit of the Lord will rest upon the one that is a descendant of Jesse, that is Jesus. “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”

When we judge with our eyes and ears, we often bring our preconceptions and prejudices. But when we judge with our heart, that is with righteousness and compassion, as Jesus did, this will bring about the kind of harmony that allows the wolf to live with the lamb and the leopard to lie down with the kid.

This is surely something to be hopeful for… and if possible, to help bring about.

But the gospel text from Matthew has a very different tone. It doesn’t seem to speak of hope at all. Instead, it begins with a call by John the Baptist to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

I don’t know about you, any sentence that begins with REPENT is surely not one of HOPE… or is it?

Read the rest of this entry »

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