Away in a Manger – Wide Eyed and All Ears
Sermon, Sunday December 8, 2019
Matthew 3:1-12 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.’
The young boy standing in that stable is wide-eyed and all ears. He stands with wide eyes and open ears just taking in the scene and listening to the words. He takes in words of the Mother of this baby as she reflects on the magnitude of what God has given to her for the world.
Wide-eyed and all ears. That is the advent call. Wide-eyed and all ears.
The problem is that we long term Christians are often bleary-eyed and plugged ears when it comes to taking in the scene and listening to the Word speak. Like a shop owner so used to her shop and so focused on sweeping the floor that she does not even notice the cheers of the crowd as the Queen’s cavalcade drives past her shop!
But every year the Spirit sends out a breaking news bulletin across the bottom of our screens. The ABC radio fire announcement siren goes off for a moment in time. We may or may not be wide eyed and all ears…..
He comes in from the wild. He is trying to get us to be wide-eyed and all ears to the things of the Spirit again. His name is John. He is that wild man with a wild heart trying to arrest out attention back to this wild gift of God named Jesus.
If you choose to ignore this call to notice and receive this Gift; if you choose to lessen this gift by claiming yourself or your past or your family name or your nationality or your money or achievements in life a better thing; a gift you have earned or achieved for yourself, then he cuts you down to size.
John is sent to cut us down to size to make sure we are wide-eyed and all ears to the truth that we are not as good as we believe ourselves to be; I am not God’s gift to the world by myself, but this boy is God’s gift to me and only he makes us truly God’s gift to the world.
Some around John choose to dismiss this gift or be their own gift. They say; “We have Abraham as our father.”
Out comes the axe!
“I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3: 9-10)
Why? To get you back to being that young kid, wide-eyed and all ears taking in the scene and hearing the words spoken; receiving him in the heart.
John knows that this gift brings life after his axe. There is hope from despair, forgiveness for a wayward heart in this baby boy.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord –3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. (Isaiah 11: 1-3)
This boy will see beyond our human eyes and listen beyond our ears into the heart. He goes deeper, into the heart and does his work there in us.
But the way we receive him and his great gifts are by our eyes and ears. They are the windows to our very souls.
Just like Mary wants this wide-eyed boy with listening ears to hear the true magnitude of the gift Jesus is, so John is the same. John wants us to be wide-eyed and all ears to receive him in the heart because only there will we be transformed by all his gifts into who he has created us to be. From the inside out with his deeper seeing and hearing he will revolutionise who we are and how we live for the better – quite a promise! What a gift!
Is it working? Are your eyes wide open and ears attentive yet? Are you open to receive him, know him, hear him again despite all the distraction and self-focus and personal bubble of busyness or illness or pain or pride or fear?
Mary asked, “Will they come?”. She hopes you do and they too. Why so?
Mary tells the young boy not to be put off by the lack of power or wealth or royal show. She impresses upon the boy taking in this scene: it is all for love.
“Whatever you tell them about this shed, this humble place and my humble offering to this scene, tell them this boy is above all, a gift of love. Be sure to tell them that above all he is a gift of love”.
Love. To know love. To know this is all for love. This is divine love beyond all loves to rule over our wayward loves. This is the power of love displayed in humanness; in things not powerful or emotionally attractive or intellectually satisfying or visually amazing or politically correct. This is pure self-giving love given in a way any of us can really get – a everyday human way.
This is costly love; risky love. He has no guarantee that you will open your eyes and your ears to his words of love in action, but he does them anyway. You might even drive in a nail or two at times, but he still ‘does love’ for you. You might withhold love from him out of anger or doubt or distraction or unbelief. You might simply love other things, other people and your cherished dreams and visions for your life way more than his dream and vision for your life, but he still ‘does love’ for you.
His baptism of you still counts. His word of love still speaks. His community of loved people still exist and still live out his love in their everyday weaknesses.
Here comes the King of love with the true love, the right love, the largest and highest and widest perfect gracious love in real action (not just theory or idea or angelic distance); here comes human love divine in human action – God in the straw, bloodied arms spread on the wood, body risen with wounds, “Peace be with you, friend”.
Are you wide-eyed and all ears yet? Is John’s call working? Are Mary’s words speaking?
No need to come to this gift of a real love in a baby boy claiming your own goodness or rightness; your family privilege or place, your own deeds of grace.
John says, “just come”. “Repent and believe. Just come. Receive the one who gives a whole lot more than me”.
Why? Because he’s loved you the most when you have not loved him first. He loves you to make you a person of real love for your spouse, your kids, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours and even strangers.
Mary says, John says, just come. Come with eyes wide open and all ears taking in the Christmas scene of life-changing love.
Come in faith to this boy this Advent. He is full love for your empty soul, complete forgiveness for your uncompleted faith, pure gift of grace for your impure self-reliance on your own graces; inclusive truth for your indifference.
O come all you faithful, Joyful and triumphant O come all you citizens of heaven above Come and adore Come let us adore him.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. (Romans 4:13)