Second Monday in Advent

Second Monday in Advent        JOHN and repentance   9

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. 10 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.

11 “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. 12 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.”

Some thoughts:

     In this second Monday in Advent, the message 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 the past, 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. The gospel confronts the heart then and now. The gospel means to put people off center.

     After the prophet Malachi nothing, nothing for 400 years. Then suddenly John the forerunner, the “Elijah,” burst on the scene. And this 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 are a Jew does not give you special privilege with God. That in itself was shocking to those Jews of the first century. Apparently, the kingdom of God was for everyone?

     How does this truth relate to us 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. Our sin is minor and doesn’t make that much difference. John reminded 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 necessarily repetitious business.

     Advent is historically a penitential season as John the Baptist reminds us all again to 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 become “business as usual” in our Christian life, becoming comfortable in our own sin. We are in the process of becoming God’s handiwork. Repentance of our sin is one of his tools as he molds and shapes us. Jesus even included it in the prayer he taught his disciples. Martin Luther’s first of the Ninety-five Theses read: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying, “Repent ye, etc.,” intended that the whole life of his believers on earth should be a constant penance.” In other words, Jesus intended that the entire life of believers would be repentance. Remember, a cross looms over the manger. That picture proclaims the significance of John’s message.  A society in need of repentance begins with individuals repenting. Let it begin with me.

Music: “Let All Mortal Flesh” Fernando Ortega


Blessed Lord Jesus, give me that purity of conscience which I can receive only from Thee, 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, 1801-1890, adapted Daniel Sharp

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