Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the second Advent candle.)
Reader: “The prophet cries in the wilderness.”
Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
Reader: “The challenging word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
In this second Sunday in Advent, the theme of the prophet, John the Baptist, emerges. Prophecy is a consistent recurring theme in the First Testament. You’ll notice throughout the Scriptures God gives hints; he points to what is coming to those who are paying attention. In fact, he sent prophets time and again to challenge the Israelites to repent of their sin. You will also notice that those prophets, to a person, paid dearly for proclaiming God’s truth. Then nothing, nothing for 400 years. Suddenly John the forerunner, the “Elijah,” bursts on the scene. And John the Baptizer was not subtle! He had not taken sensitivity training! Some people’s feelings were hurt by what he said and they were deeply offended. Imagine that! His message was direct; God’s Kingdom was coming. Repent of your sin. The fact that you were a Jew made no difference. That in itself was shocking. Apparently, God didn’t care who you were. How does that relate to today? Sometimes we may be inclined to think that because we are a “Christian,” we get a pass with God. God is our “friend” and gives us breaks. John reminds the Pharisees (and us), who have perhaps become “too familiar with God,” that God has great power, even the power to turn rocks into his children! When he says “children of Abraham” he means faithful children of his Covenant. To further remind the Pharisees and Sadducees of the nature of the God they claim to know and speak for, John speaks of fire, the fire of judgment, the fire of the Holy Spirit, (Pentecost), and the fires of hell! Repentance is serious business. Advent is actually a penitential season and John the Baptist reminds us all again, turn our hearts in humility to the Lord, for he is coming again for the final harvest. Let us not become so familiar with God, that we minimize our own sin, God doesn’t. A cross looms over the manger.
Music: “Let All Mortal Flesh” Fernando Ortega
Blessed Lord Jesus, give me that purity of conscience which alone can receive, which alone can respond to Thy inspirations. For my conscience is tainted with my rebellious heart. My ears are dull, so that I cannot hear Thy voice. I must confess dearest Lord, that there are times I do not want to hear Thy voice. My eyes are dim, so that I cannot see Thy tokens of affection and kindness. Thou alone canst quicken my hearing, and lift the shadowed veil surrounding my sight, and cleanse and renew my heart. ―John Henry Newman, adapted Daniel Sharp