Sermon, Advent 2A
Sunday December 4, 2016, St Petri
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 3:1-12 The kingdom of heaven is at hand!In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’[a]4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.11 ‘I baptise you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/20161204_message.mp3
I don’t like snakes. Never have. I know some people quite like them. I visited a couple one who, unbeknown to me, had a huge white snake in a glass cabinet that I did not see when I first walked into the kitchen as we were chatting. Trying to be relaxed with these new people, I just stood and rested my arm on the nearest piece of furniture. In the conversation they kept talking about their pet “Ernie”. I thought they were talking about a cat or a dog outside. When they pointed to large while scaly “Ernie” resting right underneath my arm on that glass cabinet (thankfully)! I had to muster all the cool I could to not jump about 6ft across the room!
Yet I do feel for snakes. In that account of how not trusting God became our besetting problem through our first parents, that snake in the garden really copped it from God.
“You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all of your days. “, says the Lord to the troublesome reptile (Genesis 1).
Ever since, snakes have got a bad rap!
Surely this wild man of the bush, John the Baptiser, would have known a snake or two out there in the Desert.
He was known for eating bugs and bush honey.
Maybe John killed a camel or two to keep his wardrobe in order.
Maybe he was one of those bush experts who knew how to handle snakes with ease – a regular Bear Grilles!
When John ‘appeared’ near the Jordan, he saw a snake. It was of a kind harder to see than an actual reptile, but more deadly. He named this snake a viper; a killer snake, and he saw this viper within us.
The snake he sees in some is the manufacturing of our own glory out of self-interest. It was especially targeted by John in people who were doing this deceptively under the disguise of outward religious behaviour.
Religious pride is the Viper that kills.
There was no room in his prophetic heart for pretending that we are ourselves, God or pretending that we can earn God’s acceptance in any way, especially by hiding behind mere outward observance or behind being nice to people to earn praise for ourselves.
John saw through all of this self-deception and named it in strong terms. He named it trickery – the trick of looking good with a whole lot of religious pride by which we get the thanks and praise for how holy or good or upright we appear to be. God misses out because we are the centre of the world and the life of the show.
John saw this self-focus attached to family pride. The Viper of self-glory was in those who held up their family heritage as a rock solid basis for their place in God’s acceptance.
In the tradition of all the prophets, John railed against the trust in family tradition, local connections and church heritage as that which earns us a sure place out of God’s righteous judgement of our lives. He says God’s piercing truth is that we are all sinners before a holy God and all humans beings fall short of God’s glory.
John says that God could make 6th generation Lutherans out of a rock on the ground at the quarry or in your driveway if he wanted. So much for having a German name or family history as a ticket into God’s good books!
Why is John so fiery and so direct? Why does he have this cause to name the viper within people? Is he just nasty? Is he just a cranky man who can’t see any good in people? Is he just being negative? Should he be more positive, more congenial; more friendly?
Why is John so fiery and so direct? Two reasons;
He is brutal on us to shake us up and make us squirm bit like a snake so we can see the snake for what it is; self-trust, self-focus, self-glory that is killing us.
He names the viper to introduce the Saviour. He calls out the disease within to point to the cure freely available in wounded healer, Jesus, by whose wounds we are made whole.
And how does it change? What vehicle shifts us from self to salvation, from lack of truth and pretending to genuine peace and hope for living?
One way in one word….”Repent!” calls the wild man. “Repent!”.
Repentance is something deeper than merely listing all the bad things we have done and said. Repentance actually means coming to the conviction that I have been basing my whole life on a lie – on a crooked view of what is true and of lasting value;
the lie that I can save myself by being good or bad or indifferent toward God
the lie that I don’t need any help from God,
that I can claim my church heritage as the thing that keeps me in Gods grace,
the lie that repentance is just being sorry for bad behavior and that sin is just what I do or say and not a deep rooted ongoing disease for which there is no relief or cure outside of Jesus’ forgiveness.
For example; Racism.
Confessing or admitting that I have shown prejudice toward others or told jokes at the expense of another race needs more if this racism is going to turn to forgiveness and peace.
It means admitting that the entire framework of with which I approach others is faulty.
It is admitting that the view that another race is somehow inferior of basically flawed is wrong and evil in God’s truth.
Repentance here is turning away from that worldview and the seeds of hate in my heart toward God vision of all people created in his image and therefore equally valid, loved and gifted.
This kind of admitting is real. It acknowledges that we all have a heart problem that needs someone Divine to fix. This repentance finds the heart of the crucified Jesus, the man of love, waiting to respond in unearned forgiveness and love of you.
John is a neon flashing sign today. He simply points you to look to the One has struck the killer blow to the snakes head (Genesis 3), as promised in the beginning.
Whether you think you have got it made in terms of religion, or you are yearning for a relationship of grace you know you can’t manufacture yourself, hear the fiery man. He is pointing you to the real Christ this Advent.
Because of him and his word working in us we have no need to make distinctions between who is truly “one of us” and who isn’t. We are all one in him.
No need to settle for a bit of human praise. We have the affirmation and love of the Creator in our souls.
No need to rely on self, others or things for what we yearn for – that peace in the souls, that heavenly sleep when we can’t sleep, that joy when we are in sorrow, that faith and freedom that replaces our fears and worries.
We are free in him.
So, go ahead and continue to produce the good fruit of repentance”, as John names it.
From a deep relationship of peace with God in Jesus;
Stick your hand into a nest of killer snakes within others knowing that you will survive As Isaiah saw before all this.
Settle for nothing less than his praise of you more than anyone else’s praise.
Don’t hold up membership here or Lutheran or family heritage as the ground on which you stand. Give them all second place under the cross of Jesus – the only Saviour and the deliberate and stunning grace of God for us and with us – Immanuel.
Take a look see this Advent. Go to the Jordan where you were baptised and receive the truth of it again this Advent. It will make you fruitful and free.
In Advent we will be using Martin Luther’s way of reflecting on Scripture and praying.
Let’s look at the Gospel readings and use this four part way of seeking deeper insight as we listen to God in Advent.
Luther pictures this way on engaging in Scripture as a string with little knots in it or a four stranded rope.
Slowly read out loud, noting words that stand out to you or questions that the word raises…..
Matthew 3:1-12 The kingdom of heaven is at hand!In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’[a]4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to fl