THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
2nd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11: 1-10
Romans 15: 4-13
Matthew 3: 1-12
“A Restless Peace”
Last Sunday, on the first Sunday of Advent, we considered how the season of Advent draws us into a time that is both now and not yet:
-Jesus Christ is here and yet He is arriving
-The Kingdom of God is at hand and yet it is still a long way off
-The good things we expect at Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love are all here and yet we will not really have them until Christ is born into the world on Christmas Day
This season we call Advent, this season of “now and not yet” is one that draws us into a special kind of expectation: the kind of expectation where we (at the same time) know what it is that is coming (because we already have it) and yet must wait in restless expectation for the new thing that God is doing, the thing that is going to surprise and delight, comfort and challenge.
And so it is, that in this season of Advent we find ourselves once again beside the River Jordan listening to the one that cries out: “A voice of one crying out in the wilderness”
The owner of that voice, John the Baptist is just where he always is, doing just as he is always doing: calling his listeners to “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near”!
And as we listen to John, as we listen to his proclamation, to his promises and his warnings, this season of Advent gives a unique tone to the scene that we have seen before:
-It is still John, with his camel hair, locusts, and wild honey
-It is still the Jordan River, with its listeners and those being baptized
-It is still a message of repentance: a prophecy, an urging, a warning; and yet, in this season of Advent, in this season of “now and not yet” do we not also notice something new that was yet always there?
As John lifted high his voice, as John shouted out to the people all around him, he did not speak on his own accord, he did not point to himself, he didn’t even use his own words.
2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[a] 3 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.’”
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”, the words of Isaiah.
As John is preaching, as John as proclaiming, we can almost feel the urgency and the restlessness in his voice, we can hear him quote the great prophet Isaiah as if to say:
“Don’t you see?”
“Don’t you see? We have always known the Christ is coming! We have always known that God did indeed send His Great Prophet to announce the one who is coming to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire, the one who carries a winnowing fork to divide the wheat and the chaff, we have always known that the Christ is coming! Why, then, have you not heard!?”
And to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, John gives his strongest condemnation: “You brood of vipers!” “How is it that you knew and that you still have not led people to believe the Good News?!”
And so, out of all of this urgency, out of all of this restlessness, what does John call us to hear?
“Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”
“Turn around and see, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”
The world that we always wished would arrive.
The world where there is perfect peace and perfect justice and perfect harmony.
The world in which God will stand by and watch no longer but will come close to teach us the way, this world is coming. It is coming right now!
Jesus Christ is coming.
The Son of Man.
The Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The Christ Child is about to be born to us on Christmas Day!
The Good News cannot get any better or clearer than that.
And so, I believe, we can empathize with John in his restlessness. He’s got a lot to do and a short time to do it. He has been called to announce the arrival of Christ and even though some are coming forward to receive his baptism, many are standing back and questioning the things they are hearing.
Friends, I would like to ask my question this morning plainly: what is it in us that chooses to be skeptical of the Good News of Jesus Christ?
What is it in us that chooses to question rather than accept the Good News?
What is it in us that refuses to believe that we can be transformed?
What is it in us that wonders whether God would really go through the bother of saving the world and saving us at the same time?
Well if you are anything like me, one of these things is actually much easier to believe than the other:
Certainly God is saving the world!
God is making wars to cease.
God is curing illness. God is making the blind to see and the unable to walk.
God is giving the faithless hope! God is giving the disinherited an inheritance in the Kingdom to come!
God is bringing forth his Kingdom of peace all over the world right now!
But as for me, I’m not so sure God can be bothered.
It is easy (or at least easier) to believe in a God that works from a distance. It is easier to believe in a God that is doing things over there in other parts of the world for the people who really need it.
It’s nice to imagine a God who is slowing floodwaters in India.
A God who is causing guns to jam in Turkey.
A God who is giving comfort to those who are being disappeared in Hong Kong as they are fighting for their freedom.
But here? In Canada? In Saskatoon? In St. Andrew’s? In my own life? That’s just a little too far-fetched.
Friends, this is the danger of hearing the words of John the Baptist, of hearing the words of Jesus Christ (the Word Made Flesh) and assuming that they must be talking to somebody else.
This is the danger of approaching our Christian faith with a kind of polite Canadian detachment that sees a personal call to personal faith in a personal saviour as something that is a nice idea – for other people.
Where does that come from?
That apathy, that detachment, that resignation?
When I became a Christian, as a young man in my early twenties, I was dumbfounded by the words of Jesus and by the words of John the Baptist.
I said to myself: “Where have these promises been all my life?”
This promise of resurrection.
This promise of new life.
This promise of repentance and forgiveness of sins.
This promised invitation to walk with God and to serve the Gospel that has been given to us – why have I been asleep my whole life and am only now waking up?
To me, it seemed impossible that we have had, as a society, as a human race, all of the answers this whole time and yet for some reason we could not fully embrace God.
We could not, for some reason, embrace Jesus Christ as saviour, turn away from our sins, and live into the Kingdom of God, the now and the not yet that has always been offered to us.
And then, as I got older and as my experience grew, I started to see why, or rather, I started to get distracted from the urgency of that question; as time went on faith and church became less about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, less about John’s call to “repent and believe the good news” and more about the politics that distract us from the Gospel; it became more about who was in and who was out,
who was right and who was wrong, who had the “right” opinions and who did not.
And as the distracting forces of intra-church politics swirled and as I became more bold in these politics and less bold in the Gospel, I one day found myself isolated from the Truth of the Gospel that was always supposed to be at the heart of Christian life.
And in those days, as I suffered in isolation, as I prayed to be able to hear and to see again, God came close to reveal Himself: God revealed himself in the truth that all any of us really has is our own life in God, our own selves, our own families, our own church communities, our own neighbourhoods and neighbours.
That yes, “God so loved the world, that He sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Friends, God has a rescue mission for the world.
God has sent himself in the person of Jesus Christ to offer us the freedom of eternal life.
God’s love and God’s peace are not calling us to come to perfect opinions, to live out perfect politics, to hear the words of John and the words of Jesus and to point all the ways that we are “basically fine already.”
God’s love and God’s peace, God’s sending of himself in Jesus Christ is for you.
God so loved you, that He sent his only Son, so that you will not perish but may have eternal life.
This is the truth, the freedom, and the peace of life in Christ, we have had it all this time, it’s just that we (as a people, as a church) get distracted from the Good News God has in store for us.
The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Good News of Advent, the Good News of John the Baptist in the wilderness, the Good News of that message of Restless Peace is that we have indeed always had the answers all this time.
God is not some far away force in the world; God is right here in our own lives and in our own hearts, willing Himself to be known
God is not some political commodity to be debated; God is the God of the Gospel and of the Truth there revealed
And most importantly:
God did not come into the world in Jesus Christ to save “other people,” He came into the world in Jesus Christ to save you. To save you from sin, to purchase your soul, to redeem you for salvation; to offer you a baptism in the Holy Spirit, the opportunity to repent, to turn around and to receive His peace into your life.
As difficult as it can be; as difficult as it can be to believe that God has come to save you this is the Truth of the Good News that the rest of our Christian lives hangs off of.
We are free to serve others because we have been served by Christ.
We are free to visit the sick and the oppressed because we have first been visited by Christ.
We are free to welcome others because we have first been welcomed by Christ’s invitation.
And we are free to pray for peace in the world because we have first been given this peace within our very selves by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.
When John the Baptist stood beside the Jordan river, restlessly proclaiming this message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, it was responded to not by mythical figures, not by leaders and politicians, not by important people from far off places, it was responded to by the meek, by the everyday, by those who had arrived and who had decided to follow in the Truth of the Gospel.
As Matthew says:
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 [John] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3: 5-6)
The peace that John so restlessly proclaimed is this: this Gospel, this Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ is for you.
This salvation is for everyday people, meek people, people from humble places, humble homes, and humble families.
This is the peace that God has gone through great lengths to reveal in the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the peace that starts in the hearts of these everyday people and then grows into something larger.
That as a church, we are called not to make movements and divisions, not to work out the salvation of the rest of the world, not to resist change and transformation, but to ultimately embrace the new thing that God is always doing, that constant calling back to the Gospel that has always been proclaimed but not always heard.
To do that which we are called to do every day in Advent; to embrace the now and not yet of Christ, the now and not yet of His peace, and to begin by coming personally to God to receive our baptism and to confess our sins.
To know the Truth of Christ’s peace within ourselves by humble faith, because this is God’s plan for peace and salvation of all the world.
Very soon a child will be born into the world in Bethlehem. A child who will take away the sins of the world. A child who will bring perfect hope, perfect peace, perfect joy, and perfect love. This child will save the whole world and bring about the Kingdom of God. He comes not only for the whole world, but for you.
Today, let us hear John’s cry, let us:
“Turn around and see, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” Amen.