Sermon December 4: What Are We Waiting For?

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Faith United Methodist Church

December 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12

Prayer of Illumination:

God of peace, may these words of prophesy, promise and preparation encourage us to steadfast love and action. And may the words that I say and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight. Amen.           

Sermon: What Are We Waiting For?

Let’s just say, John the Baptist wasn’t one to mince words. In fact, it seems that he didn’t worry at all about what other people thought.   He called it as he saw it. “You brood of vipers!” he said. Living in the wilderness, wearing camel hair clothes with honey stuck between his teeth, he wasn’t afraid to say what he meant. “…every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John felt the urgency. He took this Messiah thing pretty seriously.

And why wouldn’t he, right? His people ~ the people of Israel ~ had been waiting a long time for the Messiah. I’m sure John was familiar with the passage from Isaiah that we read today. The promised Messiah would bring peace, righteousness, justice, and equity to the earth and all people. In fact, the Messiah’s promised reign would be greater than anyone could even imagine. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

And John, believing in his heart that the Messiah had come, wanted the people to be ready. He wanted them to know that the waiting was over. Today is the day!   And that’s kind of what we’re doing here, isn’t it? John the Baptist announced the first Advent and here we are, some two thousand years later, still taking John’s advice. Still getting ready. Waiting for the promised coming. Because Advent is when we prepare for the coming of the Messiah, into the world and into our hearts, which is no little thing.

So if John was waiting for a Messiah who would change the world, a Messiah who would call into question the regular conventions and assumptions of the day, what are we waiting for? If John was waiting for a Messiah ready to chop down any tree not bearing good fruit, what are we waiting for? John the Baptist told us that the Messiah, when he came, wouldn’t mess around. John warned, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” The Messiah John described was no Hallmark, Lake Champlain Chocolate, Vermont Country Store Messiah. The Messiah John described could not be tamed or domesticated or fit into even the biggest box we could find at the Christmas Tree Shoppe.

Truth be told, we probably don’t think too much about the winnowing-fork carrying, chaff-burning Messiah when we are doing our Christmas shopping and baking our Christmas cookies. If the Messiah comes to mind at all it is probably the infant Messiah, the Christ child. Peace on earth. Good will to all. The Christ child doesn’t get up into anyone’s business too much. He lays in his manger and ‘coos’ to his mother as the shepherds and magi sing “Silent Night.” And there’s nothing wrong with the “tender and mild” Messiah, so long as we remember why he came and the mission he was sent to fulfill. Because, would all this Advent waiting be worth it if Jesus came and everything stayed the same?

I would like to suggest that the Messiah we are waiting for is the same Messiah John the Baptist described. God is about to break on to the scene and John the Baptist knows it. Because of him, we know it too. Changes are going to be made and we have to get ready or we might miss it. “Repent!” “Prepare!” Because when God gets ready to come near, some amazing things can happen. As Isaiah talked about centuries before, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kids, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them….for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Now, that is something worth waiting for.

God crashes our human party, so to speak, and the world is changed forever.   Our expectations of ‘the way life is’ are shattered. As the Benedictine monk, Odo Casel, once wrote “The spirit of God is something disturbing, driving… for he desires to turf us out of our everydayness.”   God sends us a maverick who preaches from the wilderness telling us we need to change our attitude and direction. God sends us a baby who teaches us to love and who grows into a man who teaches us that power can come from servant-hood.

So what are we waiting for? We are waiting for justice. We are waiting for peace. We are waiting for full knowledge. We are waiting to be awed. We are waiting to be disrupted. We are waiting for salvation. That sweet little baby Jesus is going to grow up to ask hard questions. Are we ready to answer them? Is our waiting big enough to encompass all that the Messiah will bring?