Isaiah 11.1-10 / Matthew 3.1-12
2nd Sunday of Advent / Year A
I’ve heard a rumour that there’s some kind of election coming up.
I don’t want to speculate on what the
result will be, but in this country, when there’s a change of government the
changeover is instant.
On polling day itself there are
removal vans standing by in case someone needs to leave Downing Street so that
someone else can move in straightaway.
Things are different in the USA,
In normal times, at least, when the
president isn’t being impeached, the election is held in November but he, or
hopefully one day she, doesn’t take over until January.
This time between being elected and
being sworn in is known as the transition time.
It’s when the old regime begins to
withdraw and the new one prepares to start governing.
And we are also in a transition time, now, not only politically but also spiritually.
For Advent is, among other things,
about transition, and the prime symbol of that is John the Baptist.
John is a symbol of transition because
he’s the link between the Old Testament and the New.
Some people don’t see the relevance of
the Old Testament.
They think that the Old has given way
to the New, so we can get rid of it.
Or they think that the Old Testament
shows a nasty God and the New Testament a nice one.
This is obviously oversimplifying
things but understandably people would rather focus on what they see as the
nicer New Testament God.
But what we now call the Old Testament
was the Bible of Jesus’s day, so if we’re to understand Jesus’s story we need
to understand the scriptures of his time, the ones he grew up with and which
shaped the worldview of his time and people.
So, in that spirit, let’s go back to
our Old Testament reading from Isaiah for a moment.
This reading contains a prophecy that would’ve been very well known to people at the time of Jesus.
a promise that one day a Messiah will be born in the family line of Jesse, who
was the father of King David, whose hometown was Bethlehem.
we are in the royal town of Bethlehem, looking at a little baby in a manger who
is in the family line of Jesse and David.
Messiah will establish a new world order where righteousness and justice bring
about safety and peace, where there’s an end to violence, destruction and fear,
and where God rules over all.
A new era
This is what the Jews were waiting for when John the Baptist appeared.
wanted a new world where they didn’t have to fear invasion, where they were no
longer occupied by a foreign power, and where God would rule the world from
John appeared in the wilderness, wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt.
interesting that we get a description of his clothes because nowhere do we get
told what Jesus or any of his disciples wore.
gospel writers weren’t often very interested in people’s clothing in general.
John the Baptist’s appearance was very much like that of the prophet Elijah in
2 Kings 1, verse 8, where Elijah is described as ‘A hairy man, with a leather belt around his
presents himself almost as a stereotype of one of the old prophets that the
Jews knew so well from the scriptures, so it’s no wonder that people flocked to
wanted to be ready for the new kingdom of God and were excited that at last God
seemed to be acting.
last, an end to being looked down on by the countries around them, finally an
end to Roman occupation, and a chance to be top dog for ever.
them got a shock, though, those who thought they were automatically better than
didn’t think they needed to repent so much as be baptised to show off their
were seen for the hypocrites they were and denounced in strong terms, while
those who came in humility and real repentance were welcomed.
John himself wasn’t the new thing that God was doing.
himself wasn’t the longed-for Messiah.
John was doing was announcing the end of an old era and the start of the new.
preparing the way, making people ready, ensuring Jesus got off to a good start.
fierce about it, but only because of the urgency of his message and his burning
desire for people to be saved now that the Messiah is here.
why he’s the symbol of transition and the link between our Old and New
speaks, looks and acts like an Old Testament prophet but brings in the era of
the New Testament, where the Messiah that the scriptures have been pointing to
has finally come.
But, we might object, we don’t yet have all those promises of safety, peace, righteousness and justice.
this is because we are still in a time of transition.
Jesus came as that baby in a manger he came to start a process.
started the process of bringing in the kingdom of God by being born as one of
us, living with us and showing God’s power at work in him by healing the sick,
raising the dead and showing compassion and mercy to the unloved and outcasts,
before dying and rising again for us to win the final victory over sin, evil
Jesus didn’t come to do was judge the world and wrap everything up in the way
that John was expecting.
even great prophets don’t always understand everything.
probably why later, in Matthew Chapter 11, John the Baptist writes to Jesus
from prison to ask if Jesus really is who John thinks he is.
has got worried because things aren’t going as expected but Jesus reassures him
by pointing to what he’s doing.
final time of wrapping things up when there really will be safety, peace,
righteousness and justice is still ahead of us
now we are part of the start of the kingdom of God coming on earth.
now we are all voices crying in the wilderness for people to come to God and
receive his blessings.
charged to proclaim the good news that God has come to us.
work for God is to comfort, heal, help and bless, and to be light in the
darkness for those who need it.
are invited not to try to do this in our own strength but to draw near to God,
not only at Advent but all year round, to receive from him, learn from him, be
changed by him and strengthened by him.
this time of transition, when the kingdom of God is growing but not yet fully
revealed, we are signs and buds of that glorious future which the Old
Testament, John the Baptist and generations of Christians have looked forward
to, when death will be no more, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes,
and there will be justice, righteousness, peace and mercy for all.