Monday, December 09, 2013

Sermon, Advent 2A, Matthew 3:1-12

In the name of full disclosure, the sermon today is culled from an article by David Lose (Lohss), Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.

What do you think of when you hear the word, 'repent,' or 'repentance?' What do you think of when your priest says, “Repent?” Maybe it's different if I say, “Repent!!!!

Maybe you have a feeling of guilt, of not doing what you should or of falling short of God's ex-pectations. Maybe you rationalize away your actions or non-actions by comparing yourself to “real sinners” or “worse sinners.” Maybe you think repentance should be reserved for Lent and not brought up during this Advent time of preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Repentance, though, and the confession that precedes it, is not about guilt or assigning particular acts of penance as punishment. Episcopal priests do not have a sheet of mandatory sentencing guidelines for sins that we carry with us into a confession (that'll be seven recitations of Psalm 51 and you need to pick up the leaves at church). Instead of assigning a punishment, repentance is a reorientation of our life. It's a change of direction back to God. It's a commitment to live differently.

This is the call of John the Baptist today, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Turn around. Change direction. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

This is part of the reason why Advent is known as a penitential season. The kingdom has come near. Christ is coming. Now is the time to make a course correction. As in Lent, we can use this time to prepare so that we will be ready to live out and into a holy relationship with God when the time comes.

Last week I preached on the question, “How much is too much?” In that sermon I asked/challenged you to look at all the stuff generated by companies for us to purchase supposedly to make our lives happier, and to consider scaling back. Scale back on purchasing stuff for people who already have more than enough and give more to people who have little. Scale back on food and give the difference to the food bank. Scale back and listen for God.

Today, I am going to suggest the opposite. Advent is a time of holy expectation. It is a time when we anticipate the coming of the Christ, both in the manger and in the future. It is the time when we prepare for the in-breaking of the one, holy, external, almighty God into our lives. With the Advent of that event on the horizon, how would we act if we knew that this was the year Jesus would physically arrive on the scene? I think we'd repent.

Let's imagine Jesus will arrive this year. Instead of scaling back and doing less in the name of a holy and quiet Advent, I’m going to ask you to do more. Imagine more peace, more joy, more hope, more justice, more welcoming. This is the time to dream big.

In your pews are pieces of paper, and pencils are in the book racks. First, jot down a quick list of what you need and/or want to accomplish before Christmas – shopping, decorating, hosting a party, attend-ing a concert or two, special donations, whatever. Write down as much as you can on one side of the paper.

Now, on the other side, write down your dreams for a perfect Christmas. What does that day look like? What do your relationships look like? What does this city, country and world look like? Is there more understanding, more peace, more equality, justice and safety? Is there less arguing, conflict, death, hunger, disease and waste?

Maybe hearing the words of Isaiah from the past two weeks might help: In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. . . . A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together.

Now take a look at what you've written. Circle those things on your to-do list that directly contribute to achieving your hopes and dreams of the perfect Christmas. Put another way, what tasks on your to-do list contribute to establishing the reign of God on earth?

The point of this little exercise is twofold. First, it's hopefully a concrete way of showing where repentance might take place. If repentance is a turning back to God, a changing of direction, sometimes it's good to have the map of that new direction in front of you.

Today John urges us to bear fruit worthy of repentance. That fruit is the result of a new path or a new direction that reflects the reign of Christ in our lives.

Second, we have heard many times, last week included, about scaling back in Advent. Slow down, listen, experience a holy Advent, are all admonitions from a variety of sources helping us push back against the over-indulgence that often pervades the holiday season.

But this exercise is about more, not less. We believe in and proclaim a God of abundance, not of scarcity. And I’m not talking prosperity gospel stuff here. I’m talking about abundant love, abundant mercy, abundant justice, abundant equality, abundant welcoming and the like. If our hopes and dreams that we wrote down really do reflect a kingdom mentality, then what would/could this place look like if we strove for more? Can we get to a place where the abundance implied in “All are Welcome” truly does dominate our thoughts and actions?

Every time we welcome a stranger, every time we clothe, shelter and care for another, every time we look at a person and see a child of God instead of “one of Those People,” God's reign is that much closer. And every time we do this we repent of those thoughts, words and deeds that separate us from God.

It just may be, then, that Advent is about more – more hope, more joy, more welcoming, bigger dreams for God and bigger visions for the kingdom.

It's Advent. Repent and bear much fruit.



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