Advent Day 8 ~ The Messenger of the Son of God ~ You can be his messenger too!

Second Sunday of Advent~ December 6. 2020

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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.

The baptist was a wiry character, living on the edge of the desert; he wore a shirt of camel’s hair in the hot sun, which would have been quite 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 . . .

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.”

A voice crying out in the wilderness

Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.

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. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen .Click here.  (Get a chuckle out of Jesus’ 1973 ‘Fro.)  

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

 

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

 

Advent Day 8 – The Messenger of the Son of God

Second Sunday of Advent

(December 10, 2017)

Mark opens his gospel saying,

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;

he will prepare your way.

‘A voice of one crying out in the desert:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.’”

 

Mark starts his story a long way back—not at Jesus’ birth as Luke’s Gospel does; it does not begin with John the Baptist in the wilderness. The Scripture-scholar William Barclay says it began “with the dreams of the prophets long ago; that is to say, it began in the mind of God.”

“It has been said that ‘the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts,’ and so are the thoughts of God. History is not a random kaleidoscope of disconnected events. It is a process directed by the God who sees the end in the beginning

The prophetic quotation Mark uses is suggestive.

I am sending my messenger ahead you; he will prepare your way.

This is from Malachi 3:4. In its original context it was a threat. In Malachi’s day, the priests were failing in their duty. The offerings were blemished and shoddy and second bests. The messenger was to cleanse and purify the worship in the temple before the Anointed One of God emerged on earth. So then the coming of Christ was the purification of life. Seneca called Rome ‘a cesspool of iniquity. Juvenal spoke of her ‘as the filthy sewer into which flowed the abominable dregs of every Syrian and Achaean stream.’

Where Christ is allowed to come the antiseptic of the Christian faith cleanses the moral poison of society and leaves it pure and clean.

John the Baptist came announcing a baptism of repentance. The Jew was familiar with ritual washings. Leviticus 11 -15 details them. Symbolic washing and purifying was woven into the very fabric of Jewish daily ritual.

The Jew knew baptism—as proselytes to Judaism were supposed to undergo it to cleanse them of the pollution of their past life—but the amazing thing about John’s baptism was that he, a Jew, was asking Jews to submit to that which only a Gentile was supposed to need.

Bishop Robert Barron, writing in the December issue of the Magnificat liturgical magazine (p.135), reminds us that John the Baptist was the son of Zechariah, who was a Temple priest. Since the priesthood was passed on from father to son, we must assume that whatever John was doing in the desert had something to do with Temple sacrifice.

When people came to the Temple, they were seeking remission of their sins through the mediation of their priests, but before they could do that they were obliged to undergo a ritual washing called a mikvah.

That’s what John was doing in the desert; he was drawing his followers through a purifying bath and then promising them forgiveness.

But how would that forgiveness happen? In Mark’s Gospel, John says. “One mightier than I is coming after me…..I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:7-8). And in John’s Gospel, the Baptist cries, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (1:29). These two statements are functionally equivalent.

John the Baptist was preparing Israel for the arrival of the definitive priest who would perform the final sacrifice by which sins would be wiped away. His water baptism was an anticipation of a fiery immersion by which Israel would be eschatologically purified, that is, for her final survival.

It is worth noting that all four Gospels compels us to approach Jesus through John the Baptist. All four Evangelists realize that we won’t understand what Jesus is doing and what he means without the interpretive key he provides by this strange desert prophet.

Barclay would add a little more description for us. It is clear that John’s ministry was hugely successful; they streamed out into the desert to listen to him and queued up to submit to his baptism. But why such an impact?

First, he was a man who lived his message. Not only his words, but his whole life was a protest against contemporary life.

Between Judea and the Dead Sea was one of the most terrible deserts in the world. It was a limestone desert; the rock is hot and blistering and sounds hollow to the feet. In the Old Testament it is sometimes called Jeshimmon—The Devastation. John was a man from the desert and from its solitudes and its desolations. He was a man who had given himself a chance to hear the voice of God.

In regard to his clothes, he wore a garment woven of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. So did Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). To look at the man was to be reminded of the prophets of old.

And there was his simple food—locusts and wild honey, the Scriptures tell us. But “locusts” could have been a bean or a nut—the carob–that was the food of the poorest of the poor. And the honey may have been the honey wild bees make orit may be a kind of sweet sap that distills from certain trees.

So John emerged and people had to listen to a person like that. For John, the man was the message. His message was effective because he told people what they knew in their heart of hearts and the depths of their souls they were waiting for.

The Jews had a saying, “If Israel would keep the law of God perfectly for one day, the Kingdom of God would come.”

As the folk queued up to be washed in the River Jordan, they were well aware that for three hundred years the voice of prophecy had been silent. John’s message was effective because he was completely humble. His own verdict on himself was not fit even for the duty of a slave. He said, “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Or as the Gospel of John relates it, “I must decrease; he must increase.”

His message was effective because he pointed to something and someone beyond himself. He told his followers that his baptism drenched them in water, but one was coming who would drench them in the Holy Spirit.

COME LORD JESUS!  

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.

William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of Mark – Revised Edition                                                                  The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 (pp. 13-18)

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

The Messenger of the Son of God

baptist3Second Sunday of Advent~ December 4, 2016

He lived in Judea about the same time as Jesus and is supposed to be his cousin. He was very popular. Large crowds of people came to hear him preach and to stand in line to be baptized by him. He gave people hope and called people to their senses in a time when the world was crazy and mixed up, very similar to our own time.

He was a wiry character. He lived on the edge of the desert and wore a shirt of camel’s hair, that in the hot sun, would have been horribly uncomfortable.  I would surmise that he was pretty smelly out there in the desert.   The scriptures record that he also wore a leather belt around his waist. 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. And very nutritious. Lots of protein.

Well, anyway, 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 – which we’ll do this week – because it is critical for our own times.)

He preached with exuberance and passion and sometimes with fury.  He raged at many of the Pharisees and Sadducees:  “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (And I’m sure they seethed and you can be sure they were out to get him.

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.

In today’s readings we find, Matthew has John saying: 

        One who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy carry his sandals.

        He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt 3:10-11).

In our respectable Sunday assemblies, though, he would probably be looked upon with scorn;  he was certainly not the kind of guy we would expect to be the Messenger 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 demanded his head on a platter.

The 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).  

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.

Then John warned the Pharisees. he called them “a brood of vipers!” trying to flee the wrath to come.

Then came the promise. 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.

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)

at home,

at the office,

in my neighborhood,

in our country,

in our politics,

in our world  ~ this 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.

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. 

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer