Matthew 3:1-12

Sermon on Matthew 3:1-12
Ardleigh Methodist Church (10:45 am)
Dedham Heath Methodist Church (3:00 pm)
Advent 2-A
December 5, 2004
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.”

I’m always amazed when I read the book of Isaiah during the season of Advent.  I am continually struck by the amazing prophecies in Isaiah and how intimately they relate to the life and death of Christ.  These prophecies tell of a Messiah whose coming will change the face of the world.  Matthew tells us in chapter three of his gospel that John the Baptist was the one whom Isaiah spoke about.  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

As God’s people, the Church, we are blessed with the wonderful and important duty of preparing the way of the Lord.  During Advent, that is what we do on a personal level.  We prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of God’s heavenly son in the body of a poor, Jewish peasant some 2000 years ago.  We remember all the stories of the nativity, the prophecies concerning his coming, and we celebrate that coming in the culmination of one special day.

But it is not enough to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ into the world.  We do that every year.  In the Church, we have fallen into the same trap as the rest of society.  I like to call it the sin of individualism.  We like to think that everything related to religion is about our personal relationship with God.  “It’s just between me and Jesus.”  Well, John the Baptist and the prophet Isaiah have news for those of us who have fallen into the sin of individualism–the Messiah, Jesus, did not come just to save our souls.  “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  Scripture does not tell us, “Prepare your hearts and minds for the advent of Christ.”  It tells us that we as God’s community (the Church), not just as individuals, have the task of preparing the way of the Lord in the world.

I will say it again:  Jesus did not come just to save your soul.  Jesus came to turn the world upside down.  He came to turn our hearts and our minds and our relationships with him and with everybody else upside down too.  But Jesus, the Messiah, is bringing about a totally different system of thought into the world.  I want to take a moment to share with you the insights from the Advent Bible Study we had last week in case you weren’t able to come.  This past week we studied the prophecies of Isaiah and their relation to Christ.  Here is a brief summary of the contents of these prophecies and how the world will be different:

Current World Order:
*sorrow and suffering
*wars and violence between peoples and nations
*injustice and oppression of the poor
*incomplete knowledge of the Lord
*only certain people experience salvation
*animals kill each other

Future World Order:
*joy, no more sorrow
*peace on earth
*equity and justice shall prevail
*the world will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
*inclusivity of the Gentiles in plan of salvation
*even the animals at peace with one another

As you can see, Jesus came to turn the world completely upside down.  We like the image of Jesus as a little baby at Christmas so much because as an infant, he is so cute and he doesn’t challenge us or get us out of our comfort zones.  We disinfect the image of Jesus so much that we reduce him to a mere teacher who told us we should love one another.  We forget that he wasn’t killed because he told us to get along with each other.  The Jesus of Easter is a long way off from the Jesus of Christmas.  Jesus began the process of turning the world upside down that first Christmas, and Jesus will finish that task one day, but until then the Church waits.

Advent calls us to prepare the way of the Lord.  I have long fights with God about his methods in this world.  You see, “God chose to enter the world as a Jewish peasant.”  Christ then went about Israel turning the world and the tables of the temple upside down; only to get himself executed in the most horrific way.  God didn’t have the best game plan, in my opinion.  But, it is a good thing that he is the one orchestrating the symphony of our lives and not us, isn’t it?

I continue to struggle with God and the methods he chooses to invade our lives and the world.  In the Bible, God is always choosing the most inadequate people he can find for the most monumental of tasks.  He chose a murdering, stuttering shepherd to shepherd all of Israel out of Egypt.  He chose a person to repentance to Ninevah who got on a boat and tried to get away from God and the task God gave him.  He chose uneducated and stubborn fishermen from the Sea of Galilee and a corrupt tax collector, to be his disciples–all of whom abandoned him when he needed them most.  God then chose the most outrageous and horrific persecutor of the early Church to carry his message to the Gentiles–the largest task yet.  And God continues to make nonsensical decisions as to whom he entrusts the duty of preparing his way, for he entrusts you and me with that!

Most of us in Ardleigh/Dedham Heath, some might even say myself, are past our prime.  Our joints are stricken with arthritis, our memories are not what they used to be, our incomes are low, our morale feels almost gone at times, but still God insists that it is up to us to prepare the way for his coming.

I read a very disturbing article this past week that had a bit of scary information in it.  It said, that most of the churches Paul was writing to, had no more than a hundred people in each of them.  These epic epistles from the apostle Paul to the churches at Corinth and Ephesus and Philippi–were about the size of the churches here in Ardleigh and Manningtree and Dedham.  They were not large.  They were not without their problems.  They were not the best people for the job either, but God entrusted them with the duty of preparing his way.

And God will not leave us alone until we get out in his world and start the preparation.  He didn’t let the prophet Jonah run when he decided to skip out on the task God appointed him to do in Ninevah, and God won’t allow us to either.  Our worship, as important as it is, will be vain and our words will be empty unless we actually back up those words with our actions.

God’s question to us is, “What are we doing to prepare the way?”  What are we doing to turn the world upside down?  What is ti about our community that separates us from any other organization like the the Rotary Club?  What is our mission in Ardleigh/Dedham?  In what way are we going to prepare the way of the Lord?  I am going to stand at the door as you leave this morning and I want you to tell me what you are going to do to help prepare the way of the Lord.  I want concrete ideas, not cheap answers like, “I’m going to be nicer to my co-workers” or “I am going to help people more.”  I want you to give me ideas about what we as a church can do to help prepare the way of the Lord.  Otherwise, we are wasting our time–your time, my time, and most importantly–God’s time!

Let us take a few minutes of silent prayer as we reflect on God’s will for our church and for our lives.  Amen.

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