The Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Advent is here, with its central themes Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. If we ever needed to be reminded of those concepts it is now. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that there is a much greater focus on despair, turmoil, anger, and hatred than there is on hope, peace joy, and love in our world.
I am very glad to say that I believe that, for the most part, we do well in our focus on hope, peace, joy, and love here at Christ Church. But we have to know it is something that we have to keep in the forefront of our thinking and our determinations.
Advent gives us the opportunity, in our chaotic world, to step aside and pause. To stop, to reflect, on all that is promised in the coming of Christ into the world.
Last week in my message I said we would focus our worship and praise with a sense of expectation and anticipation. That we would be looking forward with a sense of awe and wonder at what the Lord might want to do among us.
Sometimes that is challenging. Sometimes our experience tells us that we will be disappointed, that we will be let down, and that we won't get what we want or think we deserve. So, how do we maintain our hope and our peace in this busy Advent season, and into the coming year? I would like to suggest that we do that by understanding where we base our hope.
You may have seen this week that I had the opportunity to write one of the Diocese of Ohio Advent Devotionals. I spoke about the difference between Hope and Expectation. Now it is not always true, but often I think we lose our hope because we become determined, and fixated, on our expectations. We decide! We decide what we are going to expect. We set, in our minds, that certain things or certain outcomes are going to take place. When things don't work out that way we are disappointed and find it difficult to maintain our hope. I believe, that it is when we are able to hope, without a fixed expectation, that we can be free to have a sense of expectation that is spiritually or God, centered.
We see this today in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew. The reading focuses on John the Baptist. But, Matthew takes the opportunity to quote John to challenge the Scribes and the Pharisees and their expectations.
The Scribes and the Pharisees had set expectations about who the new Isaiah would be - John did not fit that mold. The Scribes and the Pharisees had set expectations about who the Messiah would be. They had set expectations about what the role of the Messiah would be and Jesus certainly didn't fit in that mold either. We can be caught by our expectations and that can lead to our being disappointed or frustrated. We need to take the time, sometimes to analyze what is happening and why it is happening.
I spoke about this in my Mike's Musings in the Weekly Update this week.
I said that Advent is about preparing but I often find myself preparing for the wrong thing.
I said that I often find myself preparing for a worst-case scenario rather than a best-case scenario. Instead of preparing for the "wonder and joy" of Christ's coming I sometimes find myself preparing for those "inevitable" slip-ups or miscommunications, or failures to get it "right." I find myself focusing my time and energy on preparing for how I can make the corrections and the apologies I will have to make.
Instead of concentrating on looking toward Jesus and his arrival I find myself preparing for "those people" who I will encounter during this season. I spend a lot of time and energy getting ready to smile and be warm toward folks I would rather not have to encounter.
Instead of preparing because I want my heart, my mind, and my soul, open to receiving Jesus' gift of himself in my life I can find myself preparing because of other people's expectations. I find myself trying to prepare to not let other people down or disappoint them.
I pray you are free from these "foibles" of mine. That you will truly spend this Advent: preparing for the "wonder and joy" of Christ's coming; concentrating on looking toward Jesus and his arrival; preparing because you want your heart, your mind, and your soul, open to receiving Jesus' gift of himself in your life.
Perhaps, in this Advent season, it would be a good time for us to take some time to do some evaluation and reflection on what our expectations are. Perhaps we could stop, pause and reflect on our lack of hope, our frustration, and how our unmet expectations are affecting our faith journey.
Now if you find yourself this Advent full of hope and wonder then bless the Lord. I am excited for you. May the Lord lead and guide us all into a closer walk with him.
Bishops & Father Mike