- December 4, 2016
The Rev. Robert P. Travis
2nd Sunday Advent Sermon – 8, 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine Saunderstown
RCL Year A 12/4/2016
Scripture Text: Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Have you ever been standing out in the ocean,
Just far enough that when the waves come up,
And you’re in the trough between them,
You can’t see either way past the waves?
Sometimes when wave after wave comes
You can get turned around,
And not know which direction you’re heading.
In that case it would be helpful
If someone higher than those particular waves,
Maybe someone in a boat on top of the waves
Said, “Hey, turn around, you want to head over here!”
A contrasting image,
I want you to bring to mind,
Is when you look out on the bay,
And you see that when a big boat goes by,
Even in choppy water,
For quite a while after the boat is gone,
The water is flat in the wake of the boat.
It’s like there is a straight pathway,
Through the waves.
Smooth and straight,
In contrast to the chop around it.
This is what we’re looking at
On this Second Sunday of Advent.
There’s a lot at stake in John the Baptist’s preaching.
For one that winnowing fork,
In the hand of Jesus and the unquenchable fire
is one of the more intense
And powerful images of Jesus as the Judge yet to come,
That we have in scripture.
But there is a lot of hope here as well,
As we continue in the Advent season,
Of hope and expectation
With its dual themes of Jesus coming by his incarnation,
And his second coming,
When he will sort through
The good and the evil,
Discard the evil,
Raise the good to new life
And renew the whole creation.
We’re looking forward to celebrating
And re-experiencing what God has already done,
In bringing Jesus into the world.
And we’re hoping for what is yet to come,
When he will come again to make all things new.
Back at the river Jordan,
John is seen doing a very evangelistic thing,
Before evangelism even got started,
He’s calling people to repentance,
The word in Hebrew means
To turn around, 180 degrees,
And in Greek to completely change one’s mind.
And John’s baptizing those who come to him,
In water as a sign of that repentance.
But he is very critical of the
Pharisees and Sadducces
The religious leaders coming to him for baptism.
He questions their motives.
Are they coming to him just because everyone else is?
And just for show?
To show that they are more right with God
Than anyone else?
This is the way we know these leaders went about
so many of their actions.
So John compares them to snakes,
That oldest of images for deception,
Straight out of Genesis.
And perhaps an even greater insult,
By saying that God can raise up children to Abraham
He’s calling them lifeless as rocks.
By putting more hope in rocks being
Faithful children of Abraham than they are.
John the Baptist didn’t mince words.
Along with the line of Old Testament
Prophets, his message was direct,
ploughing through deception
Creating a straight path to God.
In relation to the religious leaders of the time,
Much like all the prophets before him,
John is like that big boat,
Ploughing through the choppy waters,
Of the status quo,
Making a smooth and straight path,
For anyone who listens to him
To sail on as they head towards God.
In relation to the individuals he was baptizing,
John is like that person in the boat,
On top of the waves,
Telling each one caught in the trough,
“Turn around, you want to go this way!”
Helping them set their course right,
And head towards God,
Rather than towards any other distraction.
He did so with a sense of urgency,
But John’s message is about what is coming later,
So his baptizing people in water,
Is a step in the direction,
Of being aligned on the straight, but perhaps long
Path towards God.
When Jesus comes,
John tells us,
He will baptize with the Holy Spirit,
And with Fire,
Much quicker, more urgent images
That urgency does continue
in Jesus’ message
that the Kingdom has come with him.
Jesus is also calling people to alignment
With the straight path to God.
But with him the path is much shorter,
I want to go back to that image of John,
Talking about the stones that God could make
Into Children to Abraham.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were relying
On their ancestry to justify them,
Saying “We have Abraham as our ancestor.”
But John was saying that is insufficient.
Similar to this,
Think of all the people in the world,
Who identify themselves as Christians,
Just because their ancestors were Christian,
Or they live in a so-called Christian country,
But they never go to worship, or pray,
Do things to serve God,
Or have fellowship with Christians.
We wouldn’t say those people were particularly
Aligned with the path to God, that Jesus and John offer us.
I would say they’re missing out on life,
John points out to these leaders of the community,
That the seemingly impossible thing,
Of making Children to Abraham out of stones,
Was not impossible to God.
And something similarly impossible,
Making Gentiles into Children to Abraham,
Bringing the Gentiles into God’s family
As Children of God
Is what Paul is proclaiming in the letter
To the Romans we read from today.
Most of us here can thank Paul,
And others who started carrying Jesus’ message,
To our distinctly Gentile ancestors.
For they were able to take the lifeless stones,
Of various kinds of pagan people
and breathe into them the new life
Of the Gospel of Jesus,
Which is for everyone.
But that even John the Baptist,
May not have known is for more than just the
Children of Abraham.
It is by the breath of the Holy Spirit,
That the fire of the Gospel of Jesus,
Spreads and brings new life to people.
But in order to receive that holy breath,
People often need the path to be cleared
They need God’s path made straight.
That, my brothers and sisters in Christ
Is where we continue in the ministry of John
Many of the people we know,
Are stuck between the waves,
And need a friend to say,
“This is the way you want to go!”
And thanks be to God,
We are in the boat with John and Jesus,
That rides on top of those waves.
So we have the ability to help those we know.
Sometimes it is as simple as making
And invitation, to a friend or family member,
To join us at Church,
And making that invitation again and again,
As waves of our busy lives
often keep coming in on them
and making the path seem too difficult.
This kind of help we provide
always involves our listening
To whatever is going on in that person’s life,
So that the direction to turn becomes clear.
We all needed someone to get us to the place
We are with God.
It may have been a parent, or a sibling,
But it’s just as likely to have been a friend,
Who said, “Come with me, you’ll like it.”
Our Advent hope is embodied
In all of us,
When we go out with a spirit of invitation
To our friends and neighbors.
When we help others see the path,
That God sets before all of us,
We join in the ministry ancient
As John the Baptist,
And in some way we hasten the coming
Of the Kingdom of God,
That Jesus started to bring
And is soon going to bring to completion.