Second Sunday of Advent~ December 8, 2019
The emergence of John the Baptist, Scripture scholar William Barclay states, was like “the sudden sounding of the Voice of God.” Why? Because the prophets of Israel had been silent for four hundred years and the Jewish people were sadly conscious of that fact. And in today’s gospel, we find large crowds of people coming to hear John preach and to stand in line to be baptized by him.
He gave people hope and Challenged people to do what they ought to do; to be what they could be in a time when the world was crazy and mixed up, very similar to our own time. But he also denounced evil wherever he found it, in the state, in among the religious leaders, among the crowd.
He was a wiry character, living on the edge of the desert and he wore a shirt of camel’s hair, that in the hot sun, would have been horribly uncomfortable according to our standards. The scriptures record that he also wore a leather belt around his waist and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. (Locusts are like grasshoppers.) Have you ever had a chocolate-covered grasshopper? Actually they’re not bad. Kind of crunchy, very nutritious, with lots of protein.
People were beginning to think great things about John. Large crowds came to hear him.
His message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”
(Yeah, I know. You’ve heard that a zillion times before by street corner prophets.)
In our respectable Sunday assemblies, he would probably be looked upon with scorn; he was certainly not the kind of guy we would expect to be the Advance Man for the Son of God. But that’s what he was. (And we better pay attention to his message because it is critical for our own times.)
He spoke fearlessly, unafraid of what the hypocritical religious leaders might do to him. Eventually Herod had him imprisoned and Herodias, his wife, demanded his head on a platter.
John was a prophet . . .
A voice crying out in the wilderness
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Presbyterian Scripture scholar William Barclay offers this commentary on this gospel passage.
The Baptist’s message summoned his people to righteousness. He pointed beyond himself. It was the Jewish belief that Elijah would return before the Messiah would come, and he would be the herald of the coming King (Malachi 4:5). So, they saw him as the new Elijah.
Then he makes this interesting observation: In ancient times in the East, the roads were bad. Ordinary roads were no more than tracks. But Solomon built a causeway of black basalt stone that lead to Jerusalem for pilgrims. They were built by the king and for the king and called “the king’s highway.”
John was preparing the way for the king. The preacher, the teacher with the prophetic voice, points not to himself but to God.
He said he was not fit to carry the sandals of the one who was to come. Carrying sandals was the duty of a slave. John’s whole attitude was self-obliteration. “He must increase; I must decrease,” John the evangelist would have him say.
Then John warned the Pharisees. he called them “a brood of vipers!” trying to flee the wrath to come. Barclay suggests John was thinking of the possibility of fire in the desert. A river of flame could sweep across the desert and snakes and scorpions and other creatures could be sent scurrying for their lives. (He called the Pharisees “A brood of Vipers.” Jesus said, ” do not think you can say ‘ you have Abraham as your father.” And it was Jewish thought that the children of Abraham were safe from the “Wrath to come” simply by being Jews. But they were hedging their bets by coming to John for baptism!
Then came the promise. He said that “One would come to baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The word for spirit for the Jews was ruah, meaning breath; also meaning wind and, thus, power, because wind drives ships. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of power. The Spirit brought truth to God’s people.
And as for the fire, it connotes illumination, warmth, purification. But there is also a threat. The winnowing fan on the treshing floor will separate the wheat from the chaff. In Christianity, there is no escape from the eternal choice.
In John. there is the basic demand: “REPENT!” And that is the basic demand of Jesus himself, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The Jewish word for repentance is itself interesting teshuba, from the verb shub, which means simply “to turn.” Repentance is a turning away from evil and a turning towards God. In Greek, the word is metanoia, and also means to turn around. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker that says “God allows U-turns.” Repentance is always available. No case is hopeless for repentance; no one is beyond repentance. The Rabbis said, “Let not a man say, ‘Because I have sinned, no repair is possible for me’ but let him trust in God, and God will receive him. (Barclay ~ The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1 pp. 43-58.)
And so, the Christmas message is that Love has entered the world.
As we enter this second week of Advent, let’s ask ourselves:
How can I prepare the way for the Lord (or Love) ?
By being our own messenger of Jesus (or Love)
at home, at the office, in my neighborhood,
in our country, in our politics,
in our world ~ during this coming week.
God’s message to us in the Christmas story is Love.
That’s why he was born, entering our world as a vulnerable baby.
And that’s why he died – vulnerable / bound / nailed –
because the Father wanted us to have evidence that he loved us.
And in turn, his message is . . .
Love one another as I have loved you.
Try it. Be a messenger yourself this week in some little way.
Now, listen and watch Prepare the Way of the Lord from Godspell Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. (Get a chuckle out of Jesus’ 1973 ‘Fro.)
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.