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Advent 2 Year A RCL December 4, 2016

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

Our opening reading today is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible. It is a message of hope to God’s people. It is a clear and compelling description of God’s kingdom. For us as Christians, it is a description of the One who will bring in that kingdom.

“A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse.” This king is going to come from the house of David. The Spirit of God will shine forth from him, and he will be full of wisdom and understanding. He will not judge things on a superficial basis. He will look into the depths of people and situations. He will be fair and compassionate. He will have a deep understanding of the poor and the meek and will judge them fairly and with respect.

In the kingdom of God, natural enemies will lie down together. They will no longer need to attack each other. Peace will prevail on all levels. Children will be safe. “They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

The shalom of God brings peace and harmony over all the earth. Everyone has food, shelter, clothing, medical care, good work to do, and everything necessary, not only to survive, but to thrive.

Our psalm continues with the description of the King who brings in this shalom. He rules with justice, defends the needy, rescues the poor. He crushes the oppressor. The earth flourishes. Crops grow. The creation is made whole.

This is God’s vision of profound peace and harmony among all creatures and throughout the whole creation. The description of the King is the description of the ideal earthly leader and the description of our Lord.

In our epistle, Paul is telling the Romans that Jesus is Lord of all, Gentiles as well as Jews. Christ is the Lord of all. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells us, God has a big family, and it includes everyone.

Our reading concludes with the wonderful prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In today’s gospel, we meet one of the two major figures of Advent, John the Baptist. John does not stay in the earthly center of power Jerusalem. He goes out into the desert, away from the crowded city.

He has spent time in the wilderness, away from all the hustle and bustle of the city. He has prayed and studied the scriptures. He has spent time alone with himself and alone with God. He knows exactly who he is and he also knows who God is. He is called to prepare the way of the Lord. He is called to be the one who will point the way to the Savior.

Great crowds of people flock from the city to see him. He becomes famous. He is preaching repentance, calling people to think carefully about their lives and measure their lives against God’s standards of love and compassion and justice. He is calling them and us to open ourselves to metanoia, spiritual transformation.

Hundreds of people flock to John the Baptist, He baptizes them. He immerses them in the waters of the Jordan River in a baptism of repentance. and he tells them that one is coming who is greater that John, and he will baptize with the Spirit.

The Pharisees and Sadducees come out from Jerusalem. They have heard about John and they want to see for themselves who he is. The Pharisees and Sadducees are leaders in the faith, but they have broken down the Ten Commandments into over six hundred rules and regulations which are so challenging that you really have great deal of wealth and leisure to be able to obey all of these rules.

Working people cannot possibly observe all these rules. For example, on the Sabbath, they are going to have to feed and water their animals, and do all kinds of other things which are considered as work, and this means that they are breaking the law.

John knows all of this, and that is why he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a “Brood of vipers,” a nest of snakes. All their rules weigh down the average working people and make them feel as though they will never be able to worship God in an acceptable manner.

Someone is coming who is going to turn things around and let people know that God is more concerned about how we treat each other than about how we may or may not follow six hundred rules and regulations. As we can see, John is really angry about how this whole legalistic system has burdened God’s people. He talks about how this system has put obstacles in the way of people who are trying to follow God’s will. As someone once said, “God is a lover, not a lawyer.”

John is preparing the Way for our King, and all of our readings today are holding up for us a vision of our Savior and of his shalom. This is the  kingdom we are called to help him build, and we are all working on it right now.

As we move farther into Advent, our Lord is calling us to make room for him in or hearts and our lives. Take a little time each day, if we can, to be quiet, as John was quiet out there in the wilderness, and to listen for the voice of Jesus telling us how much he loves us and wants to be a part of every moment of our lives and give us his grace and strength so that we can follow him.

So, once again this Advent, our lord is calling us to allow him to come to birth within us. He is calling us to open ourselves and our lives to his transformation so that we can become more and more like him.

May we prepare the way for our beloved King and Savior, Amen.

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