Commentary for December 5, 2010
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In our Advent state of mind, Jesus is the “stump and root of Jesse” that we read about today. We prepare for the coming of the One who will bring ultimate peace; the promise is tantalizing, is it not? “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” Cool…let it be so!
But, then there is this business about striking the earth with the rod of his mouth and killing wicked people with the breath of his lips. Hmmm…as Antoine Dodson might say, “Run and tell THAT, homeboy!” (You can click here if somehow you managed to miss the “Bed Intruder Song” sensation earlier this year.)
Again — and at the very least– we are reminded that even the most comforting of images we hold of God’s salvation are not subject to our domestication. In the words of the old gospel song, there WILL be peace in the valley someday. But it will be God’s peace, not any work of ours (despite our efforts at peacemaking.)
A prayer for the protection of the king, and of the king’s son. The themes of defense for the poor, deliverance for the needy, and revenge upon the oppressors are re-emphasized.
Notice the especially pungent description of v.6: “May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.” I hope you have had the opportunity to experience such moments; be sure as a preacher that you pause long enough to bring them to mind. Smell the grass, feel the moisture in the air, realize the refreshing that rain upon the earth often brings.
The Apostle’s words remind us of our need for hope and encouragement. Yep, most of our listeners could use some of that, too. A gem of a lesson is tucked into the midst of this passage in v.7: “Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you.”
Might be a really neat opportunity to address the power of Christian hospitality. Especially in the midst of the sometimes-forced joviality that is a part of the holiday season, to hold up the virtue of simple, warm hospitality in the name of Christ might be a real treat for our parishioners.
Personally, I’ve always wondered why we have to stick the brash, brazen John the Baptizer in the midst of the Advent/Christmas season! Of course, I know he is irrevocably a part of the story. But he is so…so…disconcerting!
I suppose that’s exactly why he’s here. Can you imagine John bursting in to the church fellowship hall in the midst of Christmas cookies and punch? Or into your family’s dining room or den as you’ve gathered for your celebration?
The first thing I imagine we would notice is the SMELL! Geez, oh Pete, John…take a bath, for Christ’s sake! And that outfit! Camel hair and leather. Wouldn’t he be a popular fellow on the runway?
Point is, I don’t think John would fit all that well into the homogenized, “It’s a Wonderful Life” version of Christmas that most of us have in our minds. What does his message mean for us, since we can’t help but pay attention to it?
“Get ready. Straighten up. Bear fruit.” All action words. Good intentions alone won’t cut it.
Your baptism is a good start, but there’s a good ways to go just yet in this kingdom-of-God-come-to-earth world John is announcing. “Get fired up,” John says. Alrighty, then…guess we’d better get to it!
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
“If God Is Going South…”
A few years ago, a pastor friend told of meeting God on the highway.
He said that he and his wife were traveling North on Interstate 85 when a semi began to top the crest of the hill ahead of them heading South.
Above the cab, across the front of the trailer were emblazoned the letters
As the truck drew closer and my friend saw that the side of the trailer read Guaranteed Overnight Delivery, a question came to mind:
If God is going South, what am I doing going North?
John the Baptist came out of the desert and the wilderness, right down the middle of life’s highway as loud and as noticeable as a semi. He was a clear and unmistakable sign that God was headed South and everybody else was going North, headed the wrong way.
The key word in John’s preaching was repentance. In Greek the word is metanoia. It means literally to “turn, to change, to reverse oneself.” In the Greek language, it is not a particularly religious word. It is rather an ordinary, everyday usable word for turning around and going the other way.
Bible Scholar Alan Richardson says, “In its New Testament usage it implies much more than a mere “change of mind;” it involves a whole reorientation of the personality. “If God is going South and we are going North; what should we do?”
Well, maybe when we see God going in the other direction, we could be deeply sorry that we are going the wrong way. We might hit ourselves on the forehead, or beat our chest, and say something like:
God be merciful to me, a miserable driver with a poor sense of direction. I know I’m going the wrong way, but – – -I don’t know anything I can do about it. After all, I’m already headed in this direction, and I’m making good time, and I’m getting good gas mileage, and it would be very difficult for me to change and go the other way, and besides, I know you’re a God of grace and love and you’ll forgive me for going the wrong way.
Put in those terms, it sounds pretty silly, doesn’t it?
But all too often, that’s how we think about repentance; being sorry for going the wrong way in life, asking God to forgive us, but not doing anything about it, not changing direction.
Another popular response when finding oneself going the wrong way is to blame others for our misdirection. You could look at your spouse and say, “you told me to go this way,” or “going this way was your idea,” or, “it’s not my fault, everybody else was going this way, how was I to know?’
Or, you could blame the map or Google or the guy at the gas station.
A modern response is to blame God for going the wrong way. We could spot God in the Southbound lane and look over at our spouse and say, “Would you look at that? God’s lost, God’s going the wrong way, God’s out of touch with the modern world’s sense of direction.”
People have always been good at explaining failure and avoiding change. We fall back on a variety of excuses and reasons, all designed to protect things as they are, we avoid change, especially when the change God calls for will be painful for us personally. We are usually quite willing to ask others to change and equally unwilling to make changes in ourselves.
John’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees strike at the root of the matter. The text says they were coming for the baptism of repentance, so why does John reject them?
It is because he recognizes that they were coming to join the crowd, they were not coming as people who knew they needed to change, nor were they willing to change.
BEAR FRUIT WORTHY OF REPENTANCE!
John thunders at them, and what he means is pretty simple; Let me see some evidence of a changed direction in your life.
Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees assumed that just being members of the Chosen People was enough. They had latched on to the Chosen part without remembering the “chosen for a purpose” part. God’s people were Chosen to follow God and to lead the world to follow God. The Pharisees and Sadducees had forgotten the responsibility to others that goes with being a part of a Covenant People of God.
Are we on God’s side? If God is going South, why are we going North? If the Kingdom of God is at Hand, what must we do to be ready?
John’s word to us today is that GOD is coming, and we need to get ready. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Listen again to Isaiah’s version of the promise:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
That is the kingdom that is coming, that is the world that Jesus brings with him, that is the side of the road GOD is traveling on.
God is traveling South on the side of Peace and Justice and the Poor. It is not for us to debate as to whether or not that is the side God is on, or whether or not God should be on that side.
God is barreling down the highway in that direction and the only question for us is Are YOU Ready to Follow? Are you ready to REPENT, to change direction and to follow God wherever God leads?