Summary: John the Baptist calls us to repentance which calls us to live differently, as the body of Christ
2 Advent A Matthew 3:1-12 9 December 2001
Rev. Roger Haugen
Once there was a man who was a bit of a bum. Talented and successful, he neglected his wife and his children, his work and his friends, his community and his colleagues. He drank too much, lost his temper too often, was cruel too many times. Then one day he had a tremendous religious experience and was transformed totally. He became a good and loving husband, a generous and sympathetic father, a diligent and creative worker, a loyal friend, a dedicated member of his community. He was sober and kind and patient and gentle. At first everyone rejoiced in the change. They said that they had known all along that he was a good man. Then they realized that the change was for real and that, to continue their relationships with him, they would have to change too. He lost his wife and his family and his job and his friends. He went back to being a bum and got everything back. Then he had another religious experience and once more became a new man. What do you think happened after that?
Today we have John the Baptist coming out of the wilderness, wearing wild animal skins, smelling badly, and preaching repentance. He is not genteel or polite, he offends all those who might be offended but he cuts right to the chase, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. You have been waiting for the Messiah, pay attention – he’s coming.” He is saying to the people of his time, and also to us, “repent, get ready, prepare the way of the Lord.” Cut through all the distractions, eliminate the nonsense in your lives and pay attention. Stop turning away from God, God is in search of you so quit running after all that glitters.
Following the news of ex-Beatle George Harrison’s death, "Today" show anchor Anne Curry interviewed Anthony DeCurtis, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. DeCurtis talked at length about Harrison’s search for a meaningful spiritual life. Curry said, "Apparently Harrison was the most spiritual of the group [the Beatles]; in a recent interview, he said, ’Everything else in life can wait, but the search for God cannot wait.’"
John the Baptist said, “but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” God is coming, pay attention; stop running after that which does not matter.
But there is a group of church leaders who have a problem with John. He doesn’t dress properly, he speaks without proper decorum, he smells. How can they pay any attention to what he says – he obviously doesn’t belong in the right circle.
On the television show M*A*S*H, Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester III made it clear what separated him from everybody else. "I’m a Winchester," he was heard to say more than once. For him, it was his family name that made him superior to everyone else. Other people carry other burdens. One woman received her education at Harvard and found a way to work Harvard into every conversation. That’s what John the Baptist was dealing with in this lesson. In scripture’s
continuing assault on the religious people of the day, John the Baptist was completely unimpressed with the very thing that the Jewish people had built their lives upon. They were the "children of Abraham." Then comes John the Baptist. We hate to hear John the Baptist because we know how it translates to our situation. We can hear him now. "Just because you are members of the church, just because you give your weekly offerings, just because your great-grandparents were in this church, just because you are an officer, just because you are the minister, doesn’t mean it is time to relax and take it easy and give in to this temptation of thinking this matter of being Christian is under control." In other words, don’t presume your past has taken care of your present.
William B. Kincaid, III, And Then Came The Angel, CSS Publishing Company, Inc, 1998
John’s message today, without any frills, is “Repent!” Take a look at your life, see where you have put your priorities, where your treasure really lies, and turn around and see God looking to guide you. Repentance is not a once-in-a-lifetime event, but a daily action. We need to “die daily to our sin”, as Luther reminds us. Richard Jensen says it most powerfully, “the repentant person comes before God saying, ‘I can’t do it myself God. Kill me and give me new life. You buried me in baptism. Bury me again today. Raise me to new life.’”
Repentance is simply to stop running after everything else and see that God is pursuing us. Repentance is to make decisions for God in our daily life that shows where our hope lies. To recognize that to be a child of God needs to determine the decisions we make every day. Clothes, status, fame, the right accent means nothing – only the fact that God has claimed us and loves us. Repent – live like it is true. Repentance is the ongoing lifestyle of the people of the kingdom. Repentance is to bear fruit of the kingdom. We are part of the kingdom of God when we bear good fruit. If we do not, we have decided to move ourselves out of the kingdom. The book of Matthew, which we will be reading all year long, says much about these fruits. We are a part of the kingdom when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give drink to the poor. We are an alternative culture that needs to repent of ways in which we have bought into the values of the culture around us. We need to build and nurture a Christian sub-culture for our children to live within so that they might have faith. We repent of the attitude of entitlement that suggests we deserve certain perks because we belong to this church. We are a part of the church, which is the body of Christ, because we recognize Jesus Christ as our saviour and seek to live accordingly. We need to establish our own identity and allegiance in contrast to the competing groups within our society and culture. If we do, we become part of that “brood of vipers”.