I wrote this sermon intending on preaching it today, 12/8. Alas, the weather and icy roads did not cooperate, and we were forced to cancel our worship service at Azle Christian Church so that all of our worshippers would stay safe in their homes. I like the sermon, as I take the advice of David Lose from http://www.workingpreacher.com and ask the congregation to do a little exercise within the sermon. Also, I don’t know if the footnotes show up, but I took to quotations from Feasting on the Word Commentary. The Scriptures which I was writing on were Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12 (you can click the Scriptures, and it will take you to the passage on Bible Gateway). Let me know what you think in the comments section.
“Kneeling in Preparation”
There’s a funny thing about resiliency: it is a quality that we want our loved ones to have, it’s something we want people to say the have. We want to be resilient, I know at least that I do. I want to be seen as someone who even in the midst of pain, suffering, heart ache, loss, in all of it that I don’t give up, that I continue to plug along, to continue to live my life. Not only do I want that to be what people see in me, I want to see it in myself. Resiliency, it’s a good thing right?
What if the things you don’t like are resilient? What about that mouse, no how many times you lay out traps gets the cheese unscathed? What about that problem with your car that never seems to go away no matter how much money you put into or no matter how many times you take it to the mechanic? There’s even that bug that no matter how many times you step on it…it won’t be crushed. You frantically try to assuage your fears of creepy crawlies only to have them heightened by a bug that just won’t die. Resiliency is great right?
The prophet Isaiah talks about resiliency today. In today’s Old Testament reading we hear about a shoot coming out of the stump of Jesse. What isn’t in today’s reading was the previous verse where Isaiah talks about how the Lord “will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax.” Now Isaiah is not talking about Jesse’s tree, but the symbolism is hard to miss. There are trees that are cut down. When they are cut down they are expected to stay that way. Isaiah here is most likely placing his hope in the Israelite King Hezekiah to restore Israel to its glory after the dastardly King Ahaz who invited the Assyrians to destroy their brother kingdom. Isaiah is hoping that Hezekiah will be the king their people desperately need. Isaiah is calling for God to make something new out of something old; he is hoping for resiliency. And resiliency is a good thing in this case. It’s something to be hoped for, to be longed for.
“The coming one” whom Isaiah talks about will be the one in whom resides salvation for the Israelites, maybe that is why the early Christians, and us, think of Christ when we read this. This is why when we hear “prince of peace,” we think of Christ. We see ourselves as the Israelites, we want our “prince of peace” who will come again and make things new. We want the new earth that is described in heaven where beasts of violence will no longer be, and beasts of calm are raised up to be on par with those beasts. I mean can a calf ever be as magnificent as a lion? very rarely. But the one whom the Spirit of the Lord rests upon can make it happen. God can make a new creation. God did it once, God can do it again. Our God is a resilient one, one who does not give up. God can make a shoot come up out of a stump, so the question is…what are your stumps?
Now of course, I said there are times when we don’t want resiliency, and we get that from our Gospel reading. John is calling on those who come to hear him preach to “repent.” now I don’t know about you, but when I hear repent, I think of Catholic guilt. I think of feeling guilty or sorry for something, but that’s not what repent means in this context. The Greek word metanoia means to change one’s mind. John is calling on his hearers to prepare for the Lord’s coming, change your mind. Change the way you are acting. Don’t trifle with the things of today. Try and focus on what the Lord is doing. Try and participate in God’s coming kingdom!
That is what this season is all about. That’s what Advent is all about. It is about reorienting your minds to God. It is about reorienting your thoughts to Gods thoughts, your actions to God’s actions. And this stuff does matter, metanoia matters. We might be tempted to not read ourselves into this text, or to read ourselves as those people going to John for repentance, but John’s quick monologue to the Sadducees and Pharisees is not just for them, the larger context of the entire book of Matthew lets us know that we all should be on our toes. We all need to be careful because this stuff matters.
“William Muehl underlines this point in an appropriately Adventesque story: One December afternoon…a group of parents stood in the lobby of a nursery school waiting to claim their children after the last pre-Christmas class session. As the youngsters ran from their lockers, each one carried in his hands the “surprise,” the brightly wrapped package on which he had been working diligently for weeks. One small boy, trying to run, put on his coat, and wave ot his parents, all at the same time, slipped and fell. The “surprise” flew from his grasp, landed on the floor and broke with an obvious ceramic crash. The child…began to cry inconsolably. His father, trying to minimize the incident and comfort the boy, patted his head and murmured, “Now that’s all right son. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter at all.” But the child’s mother, somewhat wiser in such situation swept the boy into her arms and said, “Oh, but it does matter. It matters a great deal.” And she wept with her son.”
What we do now, during this season matters. Whether we take effort to change our way of being, to prepare ourselves, to prepare the world for the Christ child matters. So I want us to do a little exercise, I want you to take the piece of paper given to you at the beginning of the service and the pew pencil, and write a little list of the things you were hoping to get done before Christmas. There is no judgement here. God alone gets to judge so do not feel hesitant to be honest, actually I encourage you to be honest. Maybe it’s getting all of your shopping done before Christmas Eve, or baking cookies for everyone at the office. Maybe you need to spend a little bit more time with your family. You might even need to give that last second donation to your favorite charity so it will be tax deductible. It doesn’t matter, if you need to do it, write it down.
Got them written down? Well, now I want you to do a little daydreaming: what kind of Christmas do you want, what will your day be like. What kind of relationships do you want to be shown on that day? What will dinner look like? What kind of world do you want to live in this Christmas and beyond? Certainly your hopes for what the world will be like this Christmas extend beyond just that day. What do you think God’s hopes are? Try to write a brief sentence down that encapsulates your hopes for you and the world this Christmas.
Now knowing what your Christmas hope is, I want you to look at your list of things to do before Christmas and re-evaluate it. Circle those things that are going to actively contribute to your deepest longings and hopes for your lives and for the world. There may be things that will give short term gratification, things that will help you be happy tomorrow, but may make someone else unhappy. There maybe things that don’t contribute at all, leave those things un-circled.
So now, repent. Change your ways. Change your mind. Don’t feel sorry about those things that do not contribute. Just choose to do those things which you circled. Pledge to get them done, and then do more. Do more of those things that contribute to your hopes for the world. “In Advent the church practices repentance and affirms that this world no longer has the last word, and that we live instead by hope in a new heaven and new earth.” We live in the hope of the world described by Isaiah. By living as though that world has come, we are preparing the way for the Lord; we are kneeling in preparation.