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.’”
One has to love John the Baptist!
Not for his sense of fashion –
although camel’s hair clothing is quite trendy these days.
And most definitely not for his diet.
But our fondness for John the Baptist
can be rooted in the fact that he is a
‘tell it as it is preacher.’
He doesn’t fit in the box of safe, well-dressed,
predictable, comfortable religion.
He understands his purpose fully
and is living into his calling.
As we read about John the Baptist’s preaching,
it’s very clear that he wasn’t concerned
about being Mr. Popular.
When we read about John the Baptist,
we see he was a straight talker,
no big words or smooth talking with John;
…and he wasn’t afraid to offend people
in order to tell them the truth.
We meet John the Baptist
at the beginning of each of the gospels –
today happens to be in Matthew.
He is an front man for Jesus.
He comes into the territory and
gets people ready to hear what Jesus is going to preach.
He comes bearing news.
He comes offering something amazing.
But only if one’s heart is in the right place.
John wants to see everyone around him benefit
from what he has to offer.
We hear John tell his listeners in verse 8,
“bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
That is, if you repent of your sins,
if you confess your sin,
say you will turn to God,
then there must be something to show for it.
It MUST affect the way you live.
It might be helpful in this great season of our Church,
to ask ourselves the hard question of
what fruits are we bearing?
What fruits are we bearing in this Advent season?
“Bearing fruit worthy of repentance”
as the Reverend Doctor Chris Surber puts it,
is living in such a way, as to outwardly express the reality
of what repentance has produced in our lives.
In other words,
it means that our lives reflect a lifestyle,
action, and choice pattern
which are consistent with having repented of sin –
…that is – with having made a declaration against
the destructive things of this world
in favor of aligning ourselves with t
he beautiful things of the Kingdom of God.
We are all being called to bear fruits
that are worthy of the gift of repentance.
The New Living Translation of the Bible
(of which the Rev Dr. Suber uses)
breaks it down a little more for us.
“Prove by the way you live
that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.
Don’t just say to each other,
‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’
That means nothing, for I tell you,
God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.”
John the Baptist is telling us to live
in such a manner befitting of having repented.
Repentance is an integral part of the Christian life.
Repentance is not a one-time act of confession or
a one-time recital of a certain prayer or creedal statement.
Repentance is the declaration of the heart,
of the soul,
of everything that is in us,
…in response to the terrible burden of our own sin
and the great weight of God’s love for us,
in turning from that which is destroying us
to that which saves us!
Repentance is more than a deep abiding inward decision
to reject this life for the life of Christ!
It is the ongoing and living decision
to choose Christ and live for Him daily;
even more so to allow Him to live in us!
Repentance is the attitude of the heart,
which is thankful for the grace of God…
The papaya tree is a fascinating tree
because sometimes there will be a papaya tree
that didn’t bear fruit at all.
It will go as far as flowering,
but those flowers never produce fruit.
It isn’t until the head is cut off,
will it start growing again and produce fruit.
There is probably a good scientific explanation for that –
however, for the purposes of this message,
sometimes there are things, situations, people even,
that we have to cut away from our lives
in order for us to bear fruit.
When it comes to fruit trees,
it’s important to know that the quality and
quantity each season is largely based
on the watering, pruning, fertilizer
and care the tree receives.
These analogies then beg the questions:
How are we the Church preparing ourselves to bear fruit?
What is does the quality and quantity of our fruit look like?
What are some of the things we have to cut away?
And are people rushing into our doors because of our fruit?
The season of Advent marks a time
of preparation and hope
for the coming of Christ.
Perhaps in this Advent season we individually,
as faith communities and as a Church
use this time as a time
to water, prune and fertilize
Our brother John teaches us in this gospel several things –
three things worthy of mentioning today.
The first thing is The Power of Preparation.
In the seasons when we don’t water, prune or fertilize
our fruit trees our crop isn’t as big or successful.
Alexander Graham Bell got it right
when he said “Before anything else,
preparation is the key to success.”
So how do we prepare?
Well our brother John has laid the foundation for us.
One of the first steps will be to repent.
And because God isn’t through with any of us,
we might have to do it several times a day.
Preparation takes various forms.
Some include praying,
staying grounded in the Word of God
because you can’t live by it
if you don’t know it.
One cannot practice what’s not imbedded in them.
The second thing we can learn from this Baptist – is to Seek God.
None of us are entitled to God’s grace, favor and mercy.
John reminds us ever so profoundly
that not because we can point to God’s inheritance as ours
does that mean that we don’t have to recognize
that God could choose whomever God wants.
We heard in last week’s gospel lesson
“That two men will be in the field;
one will be taken and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding meal together;
one will be taken and one will be left.”
And we are charged to keep awake
for we do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
If we are seeking God daily,
we don’t have to worry whether
we are going to be the one taken up or not.
Preparation and continuously seeking God
helps with the third thing John teaches us today
and that is humility.
John was the forerunner for the modern-day evangelist
as he unapologetically shared
the good news of Jesus Christ.
He was a man filled with faith and
a role model to those of us
who wish to share our faith with others.
It was the late Nelson Mandela
who described humility as a quality
within easy reach of every soul –
and among others is the foundation of one’s spiritual life.
Mandela’s life just like John’s
are examples to us of the seriousness
with which we are to approach the Christian life
and our call to ministry,
whatever that may be.
John remained humble in his ministry
recognizing that he was not Jesus;
and that his purpose was significant and
different from that of Jesus.
John exemplifies humility
in the lay leadership he provided as Jesus’ forerunner.
When we prepare ourselves and
consistently seek God daily
we live lives that reflect a humble attitude of gratefulness
to God… for God’s love and mercy.
And we become more able to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God!
When we in reverence bow our heads,
or kneel at the confession
we are each offered an opportunity to repent.
We are offered the chance
to turn back from those thoughts and habits and actions
that take us out of step with God.
We are invited to move back again in harmony
with God’s vision for us and for our world
as we remember the savior who died for our sins
and rose again and will come again.
During this season of waiting and great preparation,
as we seek to find again the one who first called us,
to follow him;
…who still sends messengers like John to preach repentance
and prepare the way for our salvation.
May that God, give us grace to heed their warnings
and strength to forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ.