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Advent 2, December 5, 2010

Advent 2 Year A RCL December 5, 2010

Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19
Romans 15: 4-13
Matthew 3: 1-12

Isaiah is giving us this morning two profoundly important concepts of our faith. First of all, he is describing the one we call the Suffering Servant, and then he is elaborating on the theme of the reign of God, the kingdom of God, the shalom of God. The Suffering Servant, whom we as Christians identify with Christ, is steeped in the wisdom of God. He does not evaluate things on a superficial basis. He looks deep within. This servant-king is on the side of the disenfranchised, the poor, and the oppressed. His is a kingdom of justice.

And then we have the description of that kingdom, that shalom. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and 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 shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Natural enemies are lying down together; babies are playing very near the homes of poisonous snakes. This is the restoration of the garden, the bringing to fullness of the creation, God’s vision of shalom for the world. It is the extending out into the creation of the life and vision and attitude of the servant-king. It is the reconciling of opposites, the healing of conflict, the bringing together of all things in love. This vision is not some sentimental platitude. It is the spirit of what we are called to work for in the name of Christ. It is the reality of what we are called to work and pray and give for—the shalom of our Lord.

Across the landscape of this Sunday and next strides one of the key figures of Advent—John the Baptist. He probably studied and spent time with the Essene community who devoted their lives to prayer and to political and social action. He is a wilderness person. The wilderness is a place to get away, a place to sharpen our focus, a place to strip away all of the irrelevancies and get close to God, a place where people often go to immerse themselves in the vision of God.

John the Baptist is not wearing a three piece suit. He is not into power lunches. He is coming from a very different place. He is coming from the wilderness of God, the desert. He has the vision and he has it very clearly. He is probably quite scary to behold. If he walked in here right now, we might gasp.

And he is saying that the status quo is just not going to cut it. The values which are prevailing are not the values of God, and things are going to have to change—inside each of us. John is preaching repentance. He is saying that we have to do a spiritual right about face. We have to reach out for and experience that thing called metanoia—that process of inner transformation. We are heading away from God in so many ways, and we have to get back on course. And John is also saying that he is the one who is preparing the way for the messiah, the king. One of the most excellent things about John is that he knows who he is. He knows that he is the forerunner, not the king. Later he will say of Christ and of himself, “He must increase and I must decrease.” He knows his place. He knows his identity.

John is baptizing with water, but Jesus is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is going to bring the grace for that real process of metanoia, that process which will take place in our heart and in our spirit and from there will grow to bring in God’s shalom.

Simultaneously with all of this, we are aware that our King has already come among us as a child born in a manger. Our king comes to us in total vulnerability and with that we can realize that this whole process of transformation is a process of birth. One of the great mystics said that we must allow Christ to come to birth in us over and over again. And that is another way to think of this metanoia, that we are opening our hearts to Christ so that he can be born in us.

The gift that our Lord gives, this baptism with the Spirit, this grace of transformation, is the kind of gift which makes us people of hope and people of light and people of love. May we prepare the way of the Lord. Amen.

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