2nd Sunday of Advent / Dec. 5, 2010 / Resurrection Lutheran Church
Text: Matthew 3: 1-12 / Message by: Rev. Carol Haynes Kniseley
Locusts Roasting on an Open Fire
Just when we get ourselves all worked up to get the decorations out, the tree lit, and the Christmas party underway…in walks the one person no one ever expected to see. When he walks into the room, the atmosphere of the party begins to change. Word gets around quickly that the late arriving guest is named “John”…and that judging from his appearance, he doesn’t get out to many parties. In fact, the only reason John has decided to make an appearance…is to deliver a very important message.
Calmly walking over to where the food has been wonderfully displayed…John turns and faces the crowd. Their faces aren’t all that different from the ones he has seen before. Distant. Unaware. Consumed by what they have without even a hint as to what they are missing. Clueless…as to what God is in the process of doing…even now. To them…and to us…John opens his mouth and speaks once more the words that he has spoken a thousand times before:
‘Repent…for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
And with that he merely walks out the door. It never fails. Every year at this time…in walks John the Baptist to put a damper on our Christmas parade. And all of a sudden, instead of dealing with passages about angels appearing to shepherds…and Wise Men from the East…we find ourselves envisioning images of fire and chaff being burned…and trees being cut down at their very roots. And we wonder…why now?
Maybe it’s just me, but somehow all of this doesn’t seem to fit our image of what Advent is all about. No matter how hard we may look, there just isn’t a figure of John the Baptist anywhere in our nativity set. Which tells us…by all rights and purposes, John isn’t suppose to be here. But you see, that’s where you and I have been mislead. By all rights and purposes, John is exactly where he is suppose to be. As we light the second candle on the Advent wreath…John breaks into our world once again to deliver a message that most of us do not want to hear.
But…there is no getting around John. After all, he is God’s appointed messenger, sent for just one purpose: to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. And his message (like it or not) is that the one coming is not interested in hosting parties…but instead, is coming to chop and to burn. Put simply, he is coming…to judge the world.
But why during one of the busiest and happiest times of the year do we have to turn our attention to what sounds like the ‘end of the world’? Good question. In fact, it is an excellent question…because in asking that particular question, we discover what matters most to John.
For John the Baptist…who has spent his entire life preparing for this one moment…the world as you and I have known it has already come to an end. In the person of Jesus, a whole new world has begun. An entirely new relationship with God has been made possible and all we have to do to engage…is turn around.
People need to hear the Good News that God has entered into our world with the express purpose of setting this tired old world on fire. Now before we get too excited, despite what it may sound like, this is not something that we need to be afraid of.
The fire that John is alluding to is the fire of God’s very presence. Fire that wants to speak to us…as when God spoke to Moses in a burning bush. Fire that wants to guide us…as when God used a pillar of fire to guide the people of Israel through the wilderness by night. Fire that wants to set our hearts ablaze with the truth… as those who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and felt their hearts burn when they heard his words.
The fire that John is talking about is not meant to be one of destruction, but rather one of transformation. Just as a potter uses fire to transform damp clay into useful vessels…in the same way, a jeweler uses fire to refine pure gold from rough ore. According to John, it is God’s own fire that melts us down with all of our impurities and imperfections…and in the process, transforms us more nearly into the image of God.
And when we think about it…isn’t that what we really long for this Advent season? To be transformed into the very likeness of the one who bore the cross for us? Still, it seems important that we remember…that our salvation depends not on our own goodness, but on the goodness of the one who is to judge. A judge, by the way, whose face we already know quite well…and whose presence we have felt in the wilderness places of our own lives. He is our savior…and in truth, a life-saver…who has pledged to us his very presence, his help, and his love.
When it all comes right down to it, one thing we can say about the coming judgment, is that it will have far less to do with who we are…than with who God is. The same God who according to the Baptist is able to take ordinary stones…and raise up children to Abraham. Just because he can.
So…as we go about our day to day preparing for the coming of the Christ child, let us not forget the message of John the Baptist. So that in the event we do get an unexpected knock at the door this holiday season…at least we’ll be prepared.
My advice is to keep a plate full of locusts on hand in the freezer…and if need be, you can always pop them in the microwave. Maybe by then John will have decided to join in the singing! ‘Locusts roasting on an open fire’ should be one of his favorites. Songs that is…not snacks.