Question: How do we know we’re not having a Macy’s Christmas?
Outside these church walls, it’s all red and green, and ho ho ho.
Inside these walls, we have Advent blue, and this bolt of blue fabric hurtling from the ceiling, a symbol to us that Christ is coming near.
How do we know that we’re not having a Macy’s Christmas? We know we’re not having a Macy’s Christmas when we hear John the Baptist snarling, calling us BROOD of VIPERS!
How do we enter a gospel that begins “BROOD OF VIPERS!”
How do I stay true to this gospel text and not soften it?
Is John the Baptist here to ruin our Christmas?
Yet I fear we have to go THROUGH John the Baptist like a doorway, in order to get to our baby Jesus and Christmas.
It seems WE are meant to identify with the foul names John calls the good people of his time.
They try to hide behind their family connections saying, “Abraham is our father.”
That is supposed to get them off the hook. They are saying that Abraham is their righteousness.
But that kind of righteousness is like a suit of clothes they can put on and OFF.
Their message to John the Baptist is – leave us alone!
They think that all they need is one good ancestor and they’ll do what they want.
What is sin?
Sin IS the wrong things we’ve done, but SIN is more than that.
Sin is a state of mind and a state of BEING which we find very hard to dislodge.
Sin gets its hooks in us and doesn’t let us go.
It colors our world views.
It’s very hard for us to see our blind spots.
It gives us false privileges.
It closes us off from suffering people.
Sin makes the suffering of the poor normal.
Sin persuades us that our privileges are ours by right.
Sin has us believing in illusions, such as that violence solves violence.
When we drive, we have to constantly check our blind spots – it’s a matter of life and death that we do.
When we are in the car at least we KNOW where to look for the blind spots.
When it comes to our lives, the blind spots are more difficult to see.
Part of the trickiness of sin is that it tells us we’re doing just great the way we are, yet when God brushes close by, God’s holiness and righteousness CONVICTS us.
God is so OTHER.
God is so HOLY and MERCIFUL and in Christ’s LIGHT we see the REALITY of ourselves as we are – flawed and in need of God’s grace.
Repentance is more than being sorry for specific wrong things we’ve done – which is VERY IMPORTANT to do!
Repentance is more like throwing ourselves into God’s hands and saying, ‘go ahead, do with me what you want.
Your ideas for my life are better than any idea I could come up with.’
When we do that, if we mean it – STAND BACK because you will WATCH God work – in YOUR life!
This is not anything that can be faked like these religious leaders are FAKING their righteousness claiming A LONG DEAD ANCESTOR as their righteousness and then going their merry way.
John the Baptist was surrounded by fakes, and he knew it.
He didn’t keep quiet about the fakery.
He used his voice to call them out.
The Baptist was snarling at these so-called religious leaders because they had made a SHOW of their religiosity, and they were supposed to be the good people.
Sincerity would have looked like humble hearts.
“Brood of vipers,” snarls John the Baptist!
We’re the good people, and we have lots of excuses, blarney, inertia, and narcissism that prevents us from seeing ourselves clearly.
We hear the harsh words of John, and are relieved these are for people who lived 2000 years ago.
The interesting things is that the GOOD people can be harder to reach than the bad.
Sometimes the Bad people may know they are in need of restoration, while the good people may turn a deaf ear, figuring they’re already good.
What do they need grace for?
The bad people may delay and delay and delay, dragging their feet toward renewal, while the good people are convinced they are already as good as they are going to get. What you get is cold hearts on both sides of the aisle.
Maybe we need to put aside the words good and bad and use phrases like a ‘closer walk’ with Christ.
In repentance, Christ draws us closer, into a closer walk with him.
It’s the tragedy of human existence that we SAY we want love, but when Christ offers it, we turn away.
We say, NOT THAT kind of love.
Repentance is love, but a TOUGH kind of love.
It’s devastating to see ourselves how Christ sees us.
It’s life changing.
And that can be both tough and a tough kind of wonderful at the same time.
We need God’s grace to get to the bottom of what’s holding us back from living truly, deeply.
We need God’s grace to ENDURE this vision of ourselves.
God sees us and our capacities in ways that are closed off to us.
Repentance and carrying the cross are all counter intuitive.
Repentance would appear to undermine our self-esteem.
Repentance means we look at ourselves in an unflattering light.
Which is very bad for our self-esteem when the light of truth is HARSH.
Yet this harsh light grounds us in reality so that something new can grow in us.
In today’s reading from Isaiah we read, “a shoot shall sprout from the trunk of Jesse.”
After destruction comes GROWTH!
In his book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks, a conservative opinion writer of the NY Times, makes a fearless moral inventory of his failures.
In the opening pages of his book, he outs himself as being completely self-involved.
When he looks back on his life he sees failures of omission, failures to truly show up for the people [he] should have been close to . . . sins of withdrawal, evasion, workaholism, conflict avoidance, failure to empathize, and a failure to express himself [openly]. HE accuses himself of being too busy, too disorganized, too distant to his friends. . . he prioritized time over people, productivity over relationship.” Then he says “The wages of sin are sin.” His faults accumulated and crashed down on him and his marriage ended.”
He took a long hard look at himself and he repents, and out of the repentance, comes a new life, a life he calls the second mountain.
With repentance comes new growth in which he is more fully grounded and able to be available to other people, and not just pursuing his ambitions.
Repentance transformed him, and equipped him to be more accessible to people in ways he never could before when he was so self-involved.
Out of failure came growth.
Remember the call of Peter at the seashore?
Peter and his brothers had followed Jesus’ instructions and thrown their nets out and gathered a huge number of fish, so that the boat was nearly sinking.
With this miracle of FISH, Peter experienced a brush with the DIVINE.
DIVINITY had come close and Peter was changed forever.
His response was, “MY LORD and MY GOD.”
That is the PROPER response when DIVINITY comes near. “MY LORD AND MY GOD.”
When the Divine comes to us, we fall to our knees like Peter and say ‘go away, Lord, I am sinful.’
We are overwhelmed by how OTHER God is.
Luther likes to say how ALIEN God is compared to us.
God is full of mercy, and kindness, and love.
Luther was convinced that we were depraved.
Compared to God’s holiness we are depraved.
Luther also said that real repentance is God-given.
We need God’s grace to truly repent.
God-given repentance leads us to a radical reorientation of our lives.
The image of the axe to the tree appears violent, but it is to allow new life to burst forth.
True repentance means God wants every single cell, every pore of our bodies praising him.
God wants us to hand ourselves over to God because in doing so we will find our happiness.
We will become even more truly human.
We will have that closeness to God that we all crave.
So – repent!
Repent until every single cell and pore of your bodies is singing God’s praises.
REPENT while God rehabilitates us into someone who loves our neighbor as ourselves.
Repent – don’t shy away from John the Baptist, but let him led you into a deeper walk with the One who is to come.
We have our Advent blue.
Soon we will have our Christmas red and green.
Now we have John the Baptist snarling at us.
Soon we will have the merry ho ho hos
We thank you Lord, for this Advent time of preparation.
Help us to truly repent as we are meant to.
Open our eyes to how you can draw us closer.
Let every cell of our bodies sing your praises.
WE pray this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord.