With the second Sunday in Advent, we consider lectionary scripture selections from Isaiah (11:1-10), Romans (15:4-13) and Matthew (3:1-12). The message for our worship service today is “Here’s Johnny!” This title summons more than a pun inasmuch as it captures the herald’s voice calling out from the wilderness.
The Isaiah passages capture an expectation for the coming of God’s righteous teacher. Many view Isaiah’s words as describing and predicting John the Baptist, the one paving the way for Jesus’ ministry. In the highest sense, Isaiah narrates a vision of hope and peace, both for the world and for those who yearn for redemption in an age of righteousness. That we should strive to realize a better world is a worthy pursuit. We don’t need to get hung-up on arguing over prophetic details if we partner with God to turn our hope into reality.
In examining the Romans text, another supportive theme of hope emerges. The author highlights the praise for the arrival of the Lord. Paul wishes for his readers to live harmoniously with one another as is fitting for those realizing God’s promises. We are to rejoice and proclaim with unabashed joy the glorious salvation from our Lord. In doing this we demonstrate God’s love, mercy and grace to the world.
John the Baptist is front and center in this morning’s message. In Matthew’s text we find John, who was Jesus’ second cousin, fully grown and performing the distinctive ministry God chose for him. John is proclaiming a message of repentance as he baptizes people in the wilderness. John did not invent baptism as a religious rite but it seems that he highlighted its contribution to spiritual renewal.
The response of the people to John’s baptism is just as astonishing as John’s peculiar appearance and rural location. Word must have spread quickly about what John was doing because scripture indicates all manner of people were coming from Jerusalem and Judea confessing their sins and receiving a dunk in the Jordan River.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Yes, baptism can help people connect with God but John disturbed the waters, so to speak. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” he spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jewish sects who would later give Jesus much trouble (Matthew 3:7b). It’s not too much of a stretch to consider how John’s words could bruise egos. Perhaps the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized simply because it was a way to gain social status. This might explain why John cautioned those being baptized against adopting baptism as a sort of religious fashion or quick-fix solution, which may also account for why John encouraged baptismal candidates to first turn from their sins.
John further admonished his guests by warning them against holding up tradition as a sufficient faith indicator. “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’. . .” (Matthew 3:9a). John’s statement reveals his awareness of how people relied too much on privilege and heritage and not enough on righteousness . Consider how John’s cautions may apply to those who rely too much on ideology and tradition—whether two-thousand years ago or now.
John’s timeless message echoes to us through the ages. We share the Gospel of love and truth as we encourage sincere, faith-seeking persons to seek God. We also realize that the ritual of baptism is more helpful for us as a demonstration of our regeneration than it is a necessary or magical rite. Baptism is a public, physical expression of inner, spiritual transformation. Let us therefore continue John’s trajectory. We can proclaim the coming of Jesus’ Gospel into the hearts and minds of every living creature. Like John, we can witness God’s power through the symbolic cleansing and preparation of spiritual waters.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey