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This Week's Sermon !

December 4, 2016, - Advent 2

Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalm 72
Matthew 3: 1-12

Where Did HE Come From?

In the movie “Beyond Rangoon” Dr Laura Bowman goes on vacation to Burma after the murder of her husband and son. Depressed and not thinking of her own safety, she becomes caught up in the struggle for democracy there and must flee for her life. After a harrowing river crossing she arrives at a hospital in Thailand and immediately offers her services to the much overworked staff. In her struggle she had found a reason to live. Her medical training was obvious and a staff member looks at her with bewilderment, and asks, “Where did you come from?” Then she corrects herself, asking something along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t care, how long can you stay?”

I suspect that more of you will remember the old western that made popular the question, “Who was that masked man?” and the response, “Why he’s the ...........”

John the Baptizer wasn’t a masked crime fighting hero or a doctor whose personal crisis intertwined with a political one but when he appeared out in the wilderness of Roman controlled Palestine, I’m sure people were wondering who he was, where he came from and how long he was staying? No doubt he was not the first “weird wilderness preacher” ; oppression and occupation tend to I’ve rise to such preachers!

Putting together the pieces, mostly from the other gospels, we know that he was the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah’s old age, a distant cousin of Jesus, Mary’s boy. Since we’ve peeked at the ending we know that he was eventually executed because he told the truth to the wrong person.

In the middle though, his one role in public life was to prepare the way for the promised one, which the gospel writers assert to have been Jesus.

The language he uses for repentance is the same as for “turning around”; to repent is to change direction. The language he uses for “preparing the way” is the same language used for “road building”.

Those of us who live or have been attempting to travel in the vicinity of Holmes Hill Rd. this fall, know a great deal about road construction which at this point seems more like “road destruction”! However, once they have replaced and connected all the water, sewer and drainage systems they will fill up the leftover holes, level and pave the street, build a sidewalk, paint the lines and place the necessary signs. Somewhere in there will be winter! And THEN we will all heave a huge sigh of relief.

John the Baptizer spoke of preparing the way for the promised one in the same way a village of that era would prepare for the visit of a dignitary. They would fill in the holes and cut down the hills! Perhaps they sent out soldiers to remove the thieves that hung out in the wilderness to prey on travellers. I’m not sure what else that would have been involved in the days of chariots and horseback but we can imagine what it would involve here: a new coat of asphalt and fresh white and yellow lines, well tended shoulders and, of course, strategically placed flowers. Removing street people and other “undesirables” is often part of the program. I read that when Pope John Paul II visited a slum in a South American country to find they did have running water - it had been put in the week before! They wanted to leave good impression!

Road building is work and would have been especially so before bulldozers, excavators, carry-alls and back-hoes. John tells the people they need to prepare themselves for the coming of the one whose appearance had been anticipated for generations.

Just what was this “promised one” going to do for the people? Well, to steal a phrase that has recently become well known, he was going to make their nation great again! He was going to bring their nation back to the glory days of the great King David. All of those things mentioned in the passage from the Older Testament were going to happen when this promised one came. It would turn the world as they knew it upside-down!

In this passage he spoke to the rich and powerful and “told them off”! Notice, he called them “a bunch of snakes” and said that they could not avoid the coming destruction by showing up to hear him preach! He told all of them that they could not count on their ethnic identity as “God’s Chosen Ones”. It was true repentance that God wanted and repentance was NOT just a guilty feeling, though it may start with that, it was, as I said, turning and going in a new direction. It was the kind of deep realization that resulted in a CHANGE of action and life.

Let’s not forget that the people had to go out to the wilderness to hear John and his message. The people of Israel were shaped and formed by their wilderness experience under Moses; it was time for similar experience!

At this time of year we are bombarded by “feel good” movies, some of which are quite “sappy” but, in the end, involve a plot which shows life altering change. For example - Ebenezer Scrooge goes from being a miserable miser, who didn’t even really care for himself, to a kind and generous man. After the visits of the spirits, “he knew how keep Christmas well”. George Bailey did not so much change as he realized the value of a life focussed on the small things in life and the well being of his community and family. The Grinch’s heart grew bigger and 51 years ago, has it really been that long, Charlie Brown, upset with the over rampant commercialization of Christmas puts on a play which tells the story of Christmas from the Gospel According to Luke. This anti-commercialization message was, ironically, paid for by Coca-Cola! Despite low expectations when first produced this award winning cartoon has been aired every year since.

I’m a little cranky when I see all the tv shows which pay little or no attention to religion of any kind for 249 episodes a year, more or less, but have to gather the whole cast around the Christmas tree and have Grandpa tell “the most important story there is.”

What are we to do with these biblical messages in Hantsport, and surrounding areas, in the last days of 2016. Can we place ourselves in the crowds that gather to hear John? Can we hear Isaiah afresh? Do we want the lion to lie down with the lamb? Do we really believe that the message of John, and the birth of Jesus has life altering and world altering potential?

Families are incredibly busy these days - jobs are becoming more demanding and less rewarding. If you are one of these families you are probably saying, “I DON’T need another task?” This “time out” though has the potential to give great rewards - and benefits.

Are we willing to step off of the treadmill of mindless consumerism and incessant busyness, and go into the “wilderness”, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day and intentionally focus on what it is that we really hope to for this Christmas? Take out your hymn book or these Advent passages and look at the message that is proclaimed - really look at it. Reflect on what it is that we hear, say and sing?

What is ONE change you could make; what is ONE new direction for you to take this year (keeping in mind that the year has just begun! You have more than the rest of this month to get it done! ) Let us prepare to go into the new year with a new focus!


1995- 2016 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!

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