Introduction and Call to Worship
The birth of a king draws near! Let us celebrate our Advent hope by preparing our hearts to welcome and worship the king who comes to effect salvation and justice, for all!
First Reading Isaiah 11:1-10
The prophet declares God’s chosen one will come in power, righteousness and wisdom to execute divine judgement and establish peace. His glorious rule will extend over the whole world.
Second Reading Romans 15:4-13
Christians are to abound in hope, encouraged by scripture and empowered by the Spirit. Since Christ came for both Jew and Gentile, they should glorify God by living in unity.
Gospel Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist proclaims Christ’s imminent coming as saviour and judge. He urges the people to prepare for God’s kingdom through baptism and repentance that leads to changed living.
HOMILY “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2)
Have you ever met a member of the Royal Family? I’m told that some people find it rather nervewracking to be in the presence of royalty. Well, I know a story about an American tourist, who before leaving for the UK went to his usual barber for a haircut. Joe, the barber, asked the man where he was going. “We’re off to England.” he replied. Joe was startled, “England - why would you want to go there? It's a crowded dirty country! You'd be crazy to go to London! So how ya getting there?" The man replied he was flying with British Airways. "They're a terrible airline.” Joe retorted. “Their planes are old and they're always late! So, what do you want to do in little old England then?" The man explained that he and his wife planned to visit Buckingham Palace and how they hoped to see the Queen. "Ha! That's rich!" laughs Joe. "You and a million other people trying to see her. Boy, good luck on THIS trip. You're going to need it!"
A month later, the man comes in for his regular haircut. Joe says, "Well, how did that trip to England turn out? Betcha had the worst flight of your life!" "No, quite the opposite!" explained the man. "We left on time, on a brand new plane – and we ended up first class!” “Well," Joe mumbled, "I KNOW you didn't get to see the Queen!" "Actually, we were quite lucky. As we toured the Palace, a Royal Guard tapped me on the shoulder and explained the Queen likes to personally meet some of the visitors, and if I'd be so kind as to step into this private room and wait; the Queen would personally greet me. We were so nervous, but after five minutes the Queen walked through the door and shook my hand. I bowed down as she spoke a few words to me." Impressed, Joe asks, "Tell me. What did she say?" "Oh, not much really. Just ‘Where'd you get that awful haircut?’”
The prophets of old often met kings, sometimes with a message that would leave them in fear for their own lives, for what they had to say could be difficult for the monarchy to hear; but then is that not true of any prophet? People called to speak words that challenge us out of our complacency and into action?
John the Baptist is therefore a prophet, too – the last of the prophets marking the start of the New Testament. This is an exciting time and people flock to hear John preach, for after what must have seemed like 400 years of silence from heaven, the prophetic voice is heard again in Israel. John is robed in the garments of poverty; camel-hair, a leather belt; all reminiscent of the great prophet, Elijah. John’s message is loud and clear. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Preparations for an imminent royal arrival must take place as the ministry of Jesus begins. The people are called to amend their ways, not in outward displays of piety, but through inner spiritual renewal starting with repentance as they are called to confess their sins.
By the River Jordan, the same place that the great nation of Israel once crossed over into the new life of the Promised Land, John reveals the climax of the Almighty’s long-promised salvation plan. John does not proclaim Jesus’ coming in Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem. No, he teaches them out in the wilderness. Those thirsty for God’s word have to go into the dryness of the desert to hear it, and many, many make the journey.
This willingness to travel to the desolation of the desert is just the start of a longer journey. As John heralds the coming of God’s new yet long promised kingdom rule, people’s curiosity needs to be transformed into real and lasting commitment. The sign of this is baptism in the River Jordan – an outward expression of their new inner commitment to faith. Yet even this is not enough. Being washed clean of the past is to be accompanied by repentance, a determination to put aside behaviours and attitudes not appropriate for the kingdom of heaven, now drawing close in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
The cost of personal change is demanding, particularly for the Sadducees and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. It means humbling themselves before the people and being seen to have put their lives in order. No wonder they prefer to turn to their overemphasis on ‘religious pedigree’. You see, they find safety in their rituals and laws, even when they don’t apply them with equal measure to themselves as others. John will have none of this. His words are simple and uncompromising: ‘Repent!’
We need to realise that hearing God’s word carries a challenge and requires spiritual change. John’s words remind us that spiritual choices come with consequences. We can’t fall back on our traditions to save us. It is not how we go about things that really matters but actually our heart intentions. What do we mean? What do we truly believe? Is God at the centre of our lives or is God pushed to the margins and self-importance exulted? Friends, just like for the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, our failure to show the fruitfulness of godly living is opting to exclude ourselves from the kingdom of light. As Christians, we have a most wonderful message to proclaim. We are to be the prophets of today, living out in love that which we proclaim. We are called to spread the Gospel of love, forgiveness and repentance today. It is our task, yours and mine.
If we were about to welcome Her Majesty the Queen, no effort would be spared, and we would work with the utmost urgency, knowing where our priorities lay. So then, as we sense God speaking something new into our lives, new in the life of our church, new in this community of Thorpe are we ready and willing to make the space to listen, whatever else we must put aside? Are we paying attention to the call of the Lord to change? Amen.
People are often very nervous when preparing to meet the Queen.
John the Baptist follows in the line of the great prophets, challenging the people to prepare for their coming Saviour – to repent.
Are we ready to meet Jesus? Are we willing to change for the sake of salvation?