December 8, 2013 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 3:1–3:12
Second Sunday in Advent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Think back if you can and see if you remember who first told you about Jesus. For many of us, that person was a family member, a parent or grandparent who wanted to share the story of God’s love for all people. They wanted you to know that God loved you, too. They wanted to tell you what God has done for them and for you. If you were very young, they might have read stories to you from the Bible as they held you in their arms, like my wife and I do with our little baby. Others of us came from homes where Jesus wasn’t on the radar, so to speak, but heard about him from a friend, a spouse, or someone else. If that’s your history, how did you come to know Jesus through them? Sometimes that happens through conversations over the course of years. Maybe they pointed you to God’s Word so that you could read it for yourself, even as they stood nearby to be there for you. Somehow, through someone, the message about Jesus made its way into your life.
In only a few days, on December 13, St. John’s Early Childhood Education Center will be marking thirty years of service. We’re celebrating that this weekend as a congregation, for each of those thirty years has seen the message about Jesus go out to little children and their families here in our community. The ECEC’s directors, teachers, and staff have served as messengers of God’s love for all people. ECEC students receive love and care from their teachers each day, an example of how God cares for His children. Even in those homes where Jesus hasn’t been on the radar, children come here to learn and grow while hearing who Jesus is and what their heavenly Father has done for them. They sing songs that tell of God’s work in the past and His care for them in the present. They listen to Bible stories in their classrooms and in our weekly chapel service. Through all the work of St. John’s Early Childhood Education Center, the message about Jesus makes its way into more and more lives. So we give thanks!
Not everyone was so thankful for the message that John the Baptizer was proclaiming in today’s Gospel text. God called John to get the people ready for the Messiah’s arrival and his reign among them. They needed to see that God was starting to work His ultimate plan to save all people from the eternal consequences for their sin. John urged the people to “repent.” Beyond a giving-up of sin, John was telling the people that they needed to be converted, even as the Gentiles – those who were outsiders to the faith and heritage of God’s people, foreigners who did not have Abraham as their ancestor. John’s message was both urgent and necessary, because the reign of heaven – God’s divine authority in action – stood nearby, on the verge of breaking in and changing the world as they knew it. Some people, like the Pharisees and Sadducees – the pious, religious leaders of that time – made a show of coming down to see John and receive his baptism, even if they didn’t really think anything was coming. They couldn’t see into the future, so how could this ragged man out in the desert?
Here in northern Virginia, we’ve got a great way to see out into the future: meteorology. Except it doesn’t always work as well as we’d like We make plans for what to wear, where to go – or not go – based on weather forecasts, expecting that what was foretold will happen. Just this week, word came down from the meteorologists that we might be facing the first real snow of the winter – and more urgently, freezing rain that could ice the roads and make driving hazardous. It seems like there are two main responses to such predictions. One of them is “panic!” Raid the supermarket like you might be shut inside your home for days! The other (and more reasonable) response is precaution. Yes, the bad weather could come, but it’s nothing to fear if you take steps to prepare for it while still living life as if it will go on. We might not be able to precisely predict severe weather before it arrives, but it’s still something that you take seriously.
The Messiah is coming. That’s something you need to take seriously. You’ve heard that Advent is a season to be ready, be prepared. But for what? Besides John the Baptizer, Isaiah and Paul, two other messengers of God’s word, give us a glimpse today of just what it means that God is taking action, that the reign of heaven is at hand. As Isaiah looked ahead to the day of God’s promised Messiah, he saw that God was going to make things right: not just some injustices here and there, but all things. God’s promised Savior would usher in a new world unlike that which mankind has known, because evil and sin will have been wiped out forever. In our Epistle text from Romans, Paul pointed to the Messiah – the Hebrew word for the anointed one, translated in the Greek of the New Testament as “Christ” – who had arrived. The Son of God had come into the world and all people, Jew and Gentile alike. God had taken action to make all people His own, regardless of their heritage. Through Christ Jesus, humanity could have hope for a future in which they would be united with God in His joy, forgiven and redeemed.
In this season of Advent, what’s the message that you’ve been hearing?
John’s message to the people of his day bears the same hope that Isaiah and Paul shared, the hope that brings us together in Jesus today. The message of Advent isn’t primarily about calling people to celebrate the miracle of the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem of Judea. The message of Advent – for John and for us – is that the reign of heaven is at hand. The Messiah has come, and he will return to deliver upon his promise to make all things right. The message of Advent is, as the hymn goes, “a story for all people,” for the Messiah wants all people to be his people.
There’s a fancy word in theology, eschatology, that refers to the end of the world as we know it, when Jesus returns to bring the full reigning of heaven into our broken world. The message of Advent has an eschatological focus, because it’s about the coming redemption and renewal of creation. In that Day, we will be baptized, as John says, with the Holy Spirit and with fire as God makes all things new. Along with John, Isaiah, and Paul, you can look ahead knowing that your hope isn’t just about the restoration of your relationship with God. The message of Advent is about you and God and the world. When your Savior returns, he will make all things right. He will make all things new.
As God’s people, we can and should long for God to renew His creation. Looking to the future, know that God’s love for you and me in Jesus is love that will act, even as it already has. God will fulfill His promise and our risen Lord will return. Today as we celebrate thirty years of St. John’s Early Childhood Education Center in the life of our congregation and community, we remember that the message of hope that comes with Advent is important enough to tell out in our world, even to the very youngest ears. The reign of heaven is at hand, God is at work to bring life to all people and to our world!
Carry the message of Advent out with you today and in every season. You could be the first person to tell someone about Jesus, what he’s done for you and what he has done for them. You are messengers of Christ’s advent, and that’s definitely something to celebrate! Thanks be to God.