Sermon Advent 2 December 4, 2016
Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
In our Bible Study this week we determined that the people of Jesus’ time were in many ways similar to people today and I think that it has always been so through time. Although our circumstances change, I’m thinking about wealth, healthcare, education, freedoms and restrictions, rights and duties, environment, societal norms, work, travel, friends, foes, through all of that our human condition has stayed the same. Our intelligence hasn’t changed (our knowledge certainly has) but our innate intelligence on which we have built this technological society is on a par with Adam’s and Eve’s, and it hopefully will not change until the end of time. One problem I see though is that we may not use our knowledge or govern our lives properly. If we become too dependent on machines we may lose our ability to think and to do, to inspire and to invent. And God knows what will happen to Faith and our trust in God. One day our future may depend on machines if we don’t keep our faith in a loving, eternal and ever present God, and don’t keep doing things for ourselves the way God intended. He said “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). I am left in trepidation.
Better people that I have used their intelligence to figure things out, Edison, Whittle. Davey, Salk, Banting and Best, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Caxton, Einstein, St. Paul, Augustine, Anselm, Lewis to name a very, very few. For the people of their times they were all saviours, they reasoned how to solve the bigger problems of their time and ours. No matter how smart we are we all need a saviour – someone who changes things for the better. Our federal election of a year ago saw many of electors looking for a saviour. The recent election in the United States saw them looking for a saviour to hopefully ‘Make America Great Again’. And the people of John the Baptist’s time were looking for a saviour too. Although those three circumstances are different they are all the same in condition, they were all looking.
The Jews were wanting their own government. They couldn’t stand the Roman governance of their land, the Promised Land. For a thousand years and more they had been under someone else’s thumb. They had had enough and they were not going to take it anymore. They had had potential saviours before, the Maccabees being the last serious ones, but they had been roundly defeated. They needed a real Saviour this time, just as had been promised by God,
Now the Jewish system of government when not interfered in by an outside regime was theocratic. There was no separation between Church and State for them. Social rule was God’s rule. So the Messiah would have to be of God. The Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were relatively recently formed lay factions of Judaism, had determined that the only way to get this done was to be scrupulous in following God’s Law: every little detail in the Law they could find was magnified a thousand fold and they became the religious police and punished transgressors. The citizens who would be liberated by the Messiah must be blameless and without spot they6 said. That is so similar to the Justification by Works theology of the Church of the Middle Ages, which was thrown out by the Reformation, that it shows us how history repeats itself. The religious authorities of Jesus time, the Temple priests, joined with the Pharisees and Sadducees and we all know what the outcome of their involvement was for the real Saviour – Death on the Cross. When John the Baptist came along preaching repentance, the Pharisees and the Sadducees thought that something might be at last happening. John may be the One to lead them, so they went to see him and perhaps even join him through his baptism, who knows, because they never got the chance. John denounced them in no uncertain terms. And then John denied that he was the One, the Messiah. He was just preparing the Way for Him. And that preparation required not a meticulous adherence to the Law but repentance and a new way of life. John knew, God knows, that we are frail when it comes to following directions. God knew that from the time that Eve offered the forbidden fruit and Adam bit into it. So following rules is not the way, the way is through purity of heart – getting rid of the old way of life of taking advantage of each other by whatever means and changing that to serving others by whatever means under the leadership of the Great Servant, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Son of God and the Son of Man.
From before his birth John knew about Jesus, knew that He is the Holy One of God and that through Him a new kingdom, God’s Kingdom would triumph and reign. Now that is still true for us today. We are the same as those people clamouring around John. Some of us are from close by, some are from far away. Some are disciples already. Some are Pharisees and Sadducees. Some are just day-trippers taking in the sights and sounds and not getting involved. It doesn’t really matter who you are. We are all the same, we all need a Saviour, admit it or not. We all have needs and problems that need fixing. Well God has given us the intelligence to make some of our own salvation in our human condition. Inventors will always come along solving hunger, health, political and economic issues, that’s why we have brains in these all too human bodies. But there is another side to us, a side that yields to temptation too easily, and it is the grit that gets in the smooth running cogs of life. We need an oil change, like when we take our cars in at the change of the seasons, it’s soon to be Christmas. Flush out the things which are not of God and replace them with things which are. Repent of the things you know are wrong and welcome in the good. After all we have to be ready for the Saviour. He is about to be born in our lives again and bring real Hope, Peace, Joy and Love back to us all if we let Him. Amen.