Matthew 3:1-12; Romans 15:4-13; Isaiah 11:1-10
Today’s gospel begins with the person who “prepared the path for the Lord.” John the Baptist was the first person after Malachi to be considered a prophet. There is a period of four hundred years between prophet Malachi and the prophet John the Baptist called, “the period of silence” in which God did not speak thru any prophet for that long. Then, a strange guy appears shouting in the wilderness whom people recognized as a prophet from God.
What a unique character John the Baptist must have been!. As Elijah, some eight hundred years before, John burst on the scene with a strange appearance and a powerful message. His message was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near and One more powerful is coming” Things were about to change, and people must prepare by coming to God in repentance. What amazes me whenever I read this story is that people paid attention to this individual, this scary character named John the Baptist. He was out there in the desert shouting at the top of his lungs, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!” And amazingly, people from everywhere—from Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region along the Jordan— not only flock to hear him shout at them but to confess their sins and then be baptized.
It is to these people, those who came out into the wilderness, out from the safety of their homes, to a place of insecurity and discomfort, to hear this man shout at them and compel them to confess their sins and turn away from their old way of life—it is to these men and women that John, the scary man, first brought the good news of God’s kingdom being near, the Good News that a much more powerful one was coming. One who would baptize them not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire! This one would not just ask for repentance with his winnowing fork, he would separate the wheat from the chaff! John’s message was a message of judgment. Therefore, I believe that is fair to ask: What is John the Baptist doing in our Christmas story? Seems like an out of place character. This is a time for carols, not shouting, this is a time for celebrating God’s love and mercy, not to compel people to confess the wrongs they have done. This is time to get together around a table, not go out to the wilderness. What is John doing invading our Christmas story? As he did some two thousand years ago, he is asking us to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord. John is calling us in this second Sunday of Advent to self-examination and confession. He is calling us to look in. He demands that we look in the mirror at the reality of our lives, at the sin that separates us from God and makes us unprepared to be baptized with The Holy Spirit and fire.
John the Baptist is here in the Second Sunday of Advent, because Advent is preparation for the coming of our Savior, not only into this world, but into our hearts and lives. And the way to prepare ourselves today for his coming into our hearts is the same as when John was preaching in Galilee: repent. Repentance that will take us to confession, confession that will take us to obedience and obedience that will lead us to dependence.
When people came to John and repent, they acknowledged they
had fallen short of God’s perfect will for their lives, that there was a
spiritual sickness within them that required the help of a Master Healer. When
they confessed their sin, they found authentic forgiveness. After they
confessed their sins, John asked them to be obedient. John challenged those who
came, to demonstrate their faith through specific, concrete acts of service.
Just as a good tree produces fruit, so also a faithful life will produce
actions of obedience and service for Christ. The same is true with us; if we
want to live a healthy spiritual life; if we want to enjoy the blessings from
God, we must repent and confess our sin. David in psalm 32:1-3 wrote: Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” Have you ever been with a love one you have offended and have not apologized? It is almost impossible to enjoy their company. There is a barrier of separation. God’s presence in our lives can be enjoyed only when the barrier of sin disappears. How can that happen? When we repent and confess our faults.
Obedience is the next step. Obedience will happen only when our repentance is real. There is the story about a little boy who was acting up at the dinner table. He stood up on his chair, and despite his mother’s demands, he continued to stand there. Finally, his mother came around behind his chair and forced him to sit. After twisting in his chair for a while, he finally sat still, but he said to his mother in a very defiantly voice, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside!” Many people who had confessed Jesus as their Lord and Savior are defiantly insisting in following their own ways and in producing their own fruits. They insist in living their own lives, when all God wants is to give them so much more if only they would trust and obey him.
Dependence is the last part of our repentance. The religious establishment opposed John’s work, for he was doing something unprecedented. You see, baptism was not new in Judaism, it was used as a step in the process of converting non-Jews into the Judaism. But John wasn’t simply baptizing non-Jews, he was baptizing Jews! He was converting Jews to their own faith. And he reminded his pious opponents that they couldn’t rely on their religious heritage for salvation. Repentance involves recognition of our own insufficiency and a complete dependence on God.
For some people, the most difficult part of coming to Christ is acknowledging that they need help from beyond themselves, that they are not enough in and of themselves, that they are not always right. There is a central truth at the heart of the gospel. This truth is: it is only when we place ourselves in Christ’s hands and rely on his love and grace as the only source of salvation, that we can find peace with God and our neighbors.
John was preparing the way for Christ by preparing the hearts and lives of the people. Are you prepared for Christ coming into your life today? David wrote: When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. The Living Bible translation says: There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was.[a] But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration.
When we come to the table Jesus has prepared for us let us open our hearts to the Lord and confess our sins knowing that we have a loving and merciful God.