I speak to you in the name of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier
As I’ve been thinking about Advent and meditating with the readings, I wonder why Advent doesn’t begin with the renewal of our Baptismal Covenant. After all, Advent is the new beginning to our church year and what better way to begin than by remembering our promises. And today we hear John at the river Jordan baptizing all who want to be.
If we took our baptismal promises to heart and lived into them, we would see God’s kingdom.
We talk about God’s Kingdom often, and on this second Sunday of Advent we have in our lessons a glimpse of it. So, what does the Kingdom of God look like? What might we expect from the God who loves us unconditionally?
The prophet Isaiah tells us ‘His dwelling shall be glorious’. And how could it not be glorious when:
‘the spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge …..with righteousness, and equity.’
From the psalmist:
‘he will defend the needy among the people;
he shall rescue the poor
the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace.
And from Paul to the Romans:
‘May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, welcome one another
How can we get to the kingdom described by our readings from Isaiah and our psalm? How can we live in harmony and be of one voice as Paul instructs? How can we make this a reality?
Enter John the Baptizer. John is preaching repentance to all who will listen. We are told by John to ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance’. John calls us to be liberated from our old ways of sin. He invites us to look at the possibilities which surround us. John and the prophets in the Hebrew scripture were not predicting the future so much as they were telling people what God expects of us. Prophets gave people a message, a warning to change course. An invitation if you will.
So, here we are today on the banks of the river Jordan. John lived in the wilderness, not in the center of power. John was poor and ate what he could find in the wilderness. He was unkempt. And yet, people flocked to him from Jerusalem and surrounding towns to listen, confess and be baptized. There was no convenient mode of transportation to get to him. It would take a great deal of time and energy so it must have been worth the effort. Why would they do that? Did they recognize that there must be something better for them? Had they recognized they had fallen away from God and felt the need to repent, turn around? Had they chosen to follow the way that God intended. To feel that love once again, that they knew could only come from God.
When we sincerely repent, we see things differently. We think differently. We act differently. And once we repent, we are called to live in a new way. We glimpse the world as God intended and realize how far we are from this dream of God. We are transformed.
John had one mission and that was to prepare the way for Jesus. When I worked in Boston, outside the subway (The T) it was not uncommon to see an unkempt person on a street corner with a sign which read ‘Repent. The end is coming’. John was not predicting the end however. He was calling for a new beginning. A way to God’s dream. Isaiah told us the world will be a place of peace and equity. John calls us to be worthy.
In order to begin anew John calls people to repentance. John didn’t just tell people to repent. He told them why. He invited people out of their sinful ways to confess and be baptized with the flowing water. John is inviting us to see beyond what the world tells us. We are invited to see the world differently. We are invited to see a world where the lion and lamb are together rather than predator and prey. A world where everyone thrives. There are no winners or losers. A world full of compassion, peace, and love. A world full of abundance. A world where there are no refugees or migrants who are unwanted or scorned. There are no homeless or hungry people. A world where there is no violence, no gangs to fear on our streets. A world where the color of our skin, our faith, or sexuality is not an issue. A world that cares for God’s creation.
Even though he called the Pharisees and the Sadducees a brood of vipers notice that he did not turn them away. In my mind I’ve always heard John yelling with a red face, at the top of his lungs. I’ve heard this differently this year listening to John and Isaiah together, I hear John inviting the Pharisees and the Sadducees along with us, with a voice of compassion into relationship with Jesus our savior and into relationship with God our creator and into relationship with the Holy Spirit, our redeemer.
It is only by turning to Jesus and living how he lived that we truly repent. We know that Jesus looks at us, not by our outward appearance. Jesus looks at what’s on the inside.
Might we take time during this Advent season to listen to John? Might we hear John calling us to this dream? Might we begin on the course of making God’s dream become a reality, here, now? Might we take an honest look at our lives and see where we might need to repent and turn around? Might we renew the hope of this exhausted world in which we live?
During Advent as we live with the expectation of our Savior’s birth may we be the fertile ground where a new shoot of life might take root.