Sermon 2 Advent, Year A
Isaiah 11:1-10; Ps.72; Romans 15:4-13; Matt 3:1-12
(10am: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.)
If I were to pick two words that I see as themes of our readings this morning they would be “potential” and “transformation.”
There is such potential arising from the stump of Jesse…a shoot…a small twig…sprouting up out of dead wood. A light shines upon the shoot…a spirit of wisdom and insight and counsel is present. And then—imagine this? --wolves and lambs, calves and lions, cows and bears are all living together in peace on God’s holy mountain. In our translation, there is a little boy who leads this menagerie. The Hebrew—in some translations—is that the boy will herd them, which might make more sense given this unusual grouping of animals.
There is even potential harmony in Paul’s letter to the Romans as Jews welcome Gentiles into the fold and the two are grafted together into the love of Christ.
And then there is John the Baptizer calling out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!”
He’s like a trumpet sounding a blast to alert the populace: a new thing is coming! Come! Repent…which is to say turn over a new leaf in your life… get baptized in the River Jordan and be transformed!
When the Pharisees and the Sadducees show up…(speaking of odd pairings?!)…John blasts them with some tough love…and yet he tells them to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” There is still the potential for them…these keepers of the old…to become part of the new. For John, this is a demand that these two groups let go of their fixations on how one is to worship God and transform their “right way to do things” into the task of doing “the right thing” of God’s work: feeding, healing and caring for one another.
There is so much potential in all of these readings, so much promise. So much opportunity to hit the reset button and live differently and be renewed.
And yet…these visions are not fully realized. The peaceable kingdom of Isaiah forecasts an amazing future…in this case a future for a post-war people of Israel. But it is only a vision.
The fledgling Jewish Christian communities of the early church will undergo many breaks and accusations of who can be a real follower of The Way.
And while the prophet Isaiah paints such a hopeful and shiny portrait of tranquility in the future, John is prophesying something wild and definitely disruptive. His is the potential of upending the current world order, one in which the religious authorities of the Temple, the Sadducees, and the keepers of the Law, the Pharisees, are considered “a brood of vipers.” And we all know snakes pose a threat in the Biblical story. John is predicting the arrival of someone wilder, woolier, more radical than himself who will bring a fire of baptism of the Holy Spirit. And that Spirit is going to burn away all the rot. Just wait and see!
In many ways, our biblical theme of seeing a future of what could be, what might be, what ought to be shouldn’t feel that foreign to us. Humanity always seems to be on the cusp of turning a corner and overcoming the things that ail us. We always seem to have great potential…but are full greatness lies just ahead of us. In this country, we have mass production of food and yet we have children who are hungry. More women are in the professional work force with a third of all lawyers now being women and yet wage inequality between the sexes still exists. We support our troops, and yet too many veterans end up in homeless shelters. We promise racial equality…yet the systems remain in place that undercut that pledge. Oh, yes: The kingdom of heaven is near…and yet it has not arrived.
Is there hope for ushering in a new heaven and new earth?
Because there is a shoot…a twig…growing out of the old stump of Jesse. New life is coming and is possible. It begins with following the call of John the Baptizer for us…each of us…to enter into a time in the wilderness and do the work of inner transformation. A time to reconsider priorities, and remember the mission of God, so that we can go about the task of healing, caring, and freeing our community to receive God’s gift of abundant and unconditional love that God so wants to bestow upon us. When we become reformed and reshaped…our transformation manifests in the spaces we inhabit. A prime example? Right here.
Just in the few months I’ve been with you I am seeing this image of this shoot as a perfect metaphor for St. Monica and St. James.
This parish family has certainly known challenges over the past decade. Two congregations have become one body in Christ. Pruning has had to happen with the sale of the rectory. And the construction and refurbishing of the physical space has led to some periods that might have felt a little bit like venturing out into the wilderness. And yet something such as the installation of an elevator points to the potential of full access for all people to our newly painted worship space.
At the town hall meeting two weeks ago, Father William noted some of the changes in our parish hall and the office area downstairs. The remodeling has such potential to bring in new life into this space and make this building a place of meeting God both in the quiet of worship and in active community engagement.
All these grace-filled possibilities, all this God-given potential…lies ahead of us. Something new can happen…if we dare to dream it into reality. And it all begins with us tending to ourselves, welcoming in what is new, and allowing for the transformation to happen.
We’re not there yet. But the possibilities lie before us.
May this Advent be a time for us to strive for our greater potential through our own transformation both in our hearts and in our house of worship. And let us do this so we can prepare the way for those who are seeking Christ in our community.