Matthew 3:1-12 • December 4, 2016
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
I hope that you have all had a chance to dig out from the snowstorm of the past week. Holy cow! Even for a lifelong North Dakotan, that’s a lot of snow. I guess it will be a white Christmas after all.
The season of Advent is one of my favorite times of the church’s year. Yes, you heard me correctly. I said the season of Advent – not the season of Christmas. Advent is the season that leads us into the season of Christmas. Advent is a season of a few weeks. Christmas is a season of only a few days. 12 days to be exact that begin on Christmas day. I know it’s hard to believe, but Christmas is not a season of many months that begins in August.
Advent is a blessed few weeks of waiting and longing and preparing for Jesus. It is a season of the church that calls you and me very directly to look at ourselves and the world around us. I know this is something that I’m not always able or willing to do – especially in the ways that John the Baptist calls us to do. It’s reminder from John that we receive every year in the second week of Advent. This somewhat strange man in the wilderness calls you, and me, and everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus to think about the world and every part of our lives in a new way. In John’s own words, “TO REPENT, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
To repent doesn’t mean that when we feel really bad in an emotional sort of way about something, we will have the courage to say we are sorry. Only to catch ourselves feeling that same way 15 minutes after the words “I’m sorry” have exited our lips. To repent is far more than saying I’m sorry or feeling bad because you’ve done something wrong. So often I think we miss that point.
Braniff Airlines, which is no longer in business, was embarrassed to learn that their slogan “Fly in Leather” that celebrated smart leather seats on all their planes was understood in another language to mean “fly naked.”
And Taiwanese residents did a double take when Pepsi came out with the advertising campaign “come alive with the Pepsi generation” which in Taiwanese literally translated into “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
So when John the Baptist calls us to repent, do we miss the point simply because of a language problem? Or a translation issue after 2,000 years have gone by? I don’t know, I don’t think it’s that simple.
The great poet Shel Silverstein wrote a humorous poem called Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out. Rather than me just reading the poem to you, I thought it would be kind of cool to hear it from the poet himself.
As I’ve prayed with this gospel reading from Saint Matthew that is assigned for the second week of Advent, I’ve thought “maybe that’s what John the Baptist is talking about.” That we need to take the garbage out! And do it before it’s too late! We don’t need to think about taking the garbage out or simply pray about taking the garbage out without actually doing something about it or hope someone else will take the garbage out so we don’t have to. We, you and me, need to take the garbage out.
Garbage like pain from a past experience that we thought we had finally locked up in the darkness of our heart only to have it ripped open once again during Advent. Garbage like a grudge we can’t let go of – maybe even with someone or something that we have no direct contact with. A grudge that causes us to break the 8th commandment without even knowing it. If you don’t believe me or don’t know what the 8th commandment is, check it out this week. I believe that the 8th commandment is the most frequently ignored commandment by children of God across all faith traditions.
The fact of the matter with regard to our life in Christ is this. When you and I finally take the garbage out, we are changed. We are no longer the same person we were before.
Believe it or not, the Order for Confession & Forgiveness that we do together every time we gather for worship is one way that we are invited by God to take the garbage out. This isn’t a church ritual that we should just recite in a routine, monotonous way that has no impact on how we life out our faith during the week. The ritual of confession and forgiveness should cause change each and every time we gather. Change that brings forth the healing and life-giving sounds of forgiveness that is a gift of God’s grace through the savior of the world Jesus the Christ. A savior who’s coming into our world is why the season of Advent is part of the Christian journey in the first place.
One pastor wrote this week, “We are the Advent change we seek; apart from us, there will be no peaceable realm. [John the Baptist’s] radical vision, preparing the way for Jesus, challenges us to prepare the way for Jesus’ mission in our own time. Walking in the way of Jesus involves a commitment to constant transformation and renewal, to changing our ways in response to God’s wondrous gifts of grace.” (Rev. Bruce Epperly, The Adventurous Lectionary)
I think you and I should take a bulletin home today. And as we continue to make preparations to celebrate the birth of Jesus this year, maybe the Order for Confession & Forgiveness that we share in worship each week can become part of our daily prayer and devotional practice. The Kingdom of Heaven is near. Brothers and sisters in Christ, repent, take the garbage out and prepare the way of the Lord…