By The Rev. Sherry Deets

2 Advent – December 8, 2013

Matthew 3:1-12

This is the second Sunday of Advent. Advent is that four-week period, or church season, in which we prepare for the coming of the Lord. We prepare not only for his coming as a baby at Christmas, but we also prepare for his coming into our lives today.

In today’s gospel we hear about John the Baptist. John appears in the wilderness of Judea proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The wilderness of Judea was a region of rugged gorges and bad lands and in ancient times it was infested with wild animals. Except for a brief time during the Spring rains the area was dry, arid. It was a place where few humans chose to live. And yet, John began his ministry there. The wilderness is also the birthplace of the nation Israel, and holds a holy place in its history. Hosea spoke of the wilderness as the place where God speaks tenderly to his people and brings them hope (Hosea 2:14-15). So it is in the wilderness that John asks us to Repent. The word repent often makes us feel uncomfortable, perhaps guilty. But repentance is not about feeling bad or saying, “I’m sorry.” Repentance is more than turning away from sin: It’s about a re-orientation, a change of perspective and direction, a commitment to turn and live differently. And so John challenges us not to define ourselves or limit our hopes based on ancestry or piety but rather to dream a larger hope and grander vision and to work toward a better world by “bearing fruits worthy of repentance.”

This isn’t about less but about more. It’s about inviting us into the kinds of hopes, dreams, and even adventures that the God of the Bible promises to all those who are willing to leave their familiar and well-trod paths and venture down another way. Each time we do so — each time we hold up our usual, or acquired, habits and practices and compare them with our deepest hopes and dreams — we experience the joy of Advent repentance, a time still marked by our preparation to receive and share the grace and glory of God represented in the babe of Bethlehem, the Word made flesh, our Emmanuel.

Author and psychologist Wayne Dyer often says, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” This week we learned of the death of Nelson Mandela. This was definitely a man who thought about more, not less. This was a man who had deep hopes and dreams and he acted on them. Mandela was a political activist and agitator. He did not shy away from controversy and he did not seek — or obtain — universal approval. Before and after his release from prison, he embraced an unabashedly progressive and provocative platform.

The character and ways of persons, like trees and their fruits, ought to be consistent — and consistently good. The saying of Martin Luther is fitting here: “Good works do not make a [person] good, but a good [person] does good works.”

There is both gift and task in the life of a Christian, for it is a life that is gifted by the Spirit and that will produce the good fruits of the kingdom of God. What these good fruits will be cannot be specified in advance of their appearance, but they will emerge from persons who are devoted to Christ and who exercise love for others.

Mandela was a man who bore good fruit. When he emerged from his cell on Robben Island and went on to become president of the nation that had inflicted pain and humiliation upon him and his family, we were struck not just by his perseverance and energy, but also by his wisdom and grace. Disregarding temptations like vengeance and hate, he instead embraced love and reconciliation, helping to heal a nation that today is truly part of our global village.

Remember, repentance, isn’t about feeling bad or saying, “I’m sorry.” It’s about a re-orientation, a change of perspective and direction, a commitment to turn and live differently.

During this season of Advent, we are reminded that Christ is birthed in us again, and again, and again. Christ continues to come to us. God, You have not stopped incarnating yourself. You still reveal yourself and your reign of love and justice to all who will see, and to all who open their hearts and lives to you. Mandela was a great example of a little incarnation. And we pray that his legacy will inspire, challenge, guide and equip us to participate in the work of justice and peacemaking, of reconciliation and healing, of inclusion and sharing that our world so desperately needs. ‘Sometimes,’ Mandela said, ‘it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.’

A story is told that Francis of Assisi once invited a young monk to join him on a trip to preach in a nearby town. The monk was honored to even be asked and readily accepted the invitation. All day the two monks walked through the streets and alleys of the town and even ventured into the suburbs. They rubbed shoulders with hundreds of people. At the end of the day the two headed back home. The young monk was puzzled that Francis had not even once addressed a crowd, nor had he talked to anyone about the gospel. Greatly disappointed, his young companion finally said to Francis, “I thought we were going into town to preach.”

Francis responded, “My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. Many saw us and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!”

We thank you, God of Love and Justice, that you are forever working within us and among us, in our hearts and in our world, to create wholeness and freedom, compassion and connection, equity and reconciliation. Help us to see in a different way, open our eyes, come into our hearts. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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