Advent Acts: We React          Matthew 3:1-12

Advent IIA                                             December 4, 2022                  St. John, New Orleans, LA

Happy new year! 

Advent starts the new church year.

And with that new year comes a renewed hope 

and opportunity to do things different than last year,

 in order to improve something about ourselves, our life, or our situation. 

We like to make New Year's resolutions to help us form new habits. 

To remind ourselves of the changes we want to make 

or the old behaviors we want to stop. 

In fact, New Year's resolutions are, in a way, a form of repentance like we hear about today. 

That is, a conscious decision to stop doing things in a certain way, 

change direction, 

and do the exact opposite to achieve the desired resulting change. 

but so often that aspect of Advent being the start of a new year, is lost on us.

What sort of resolutions did you make last year? 

Was it something to do with your health and Wellness? 

Maybe it was joining a gym or eating better?

perhaps you decided to eat out less or not drink as much alcohol. 

Maybe your resolution was financial in nature. 

Maybe to save more for your retirement or your emergency fund, 

or maybe you tried to spend less on frivolous things or unplanned things. 

Perhaps you wanted to improve your relationship with another person? 

Or, maybe, you resolved to be more connected to God and his church?

And how have those worked out? 

How many resolutions did you stick to and how many failed? 

Not only did they fail, but I'll bet they fell by the wayside pretty quickly didn't they? 

We talk about how change brings hope of a future which is different than our past, 

and yet we torpedo hope all the time 

by failing to make the necessary behavior modifications that are required 

to bring about that different result we desire to achieve.

What isn't lost on us, though, is the theme of hope at Advent and Christmas time. 

Even the secular world latches on to hope. 

“peace on earth and goodwill to all people,” is a very popular sentiment. 

And they say we can achieve it by buying a Coca-Cola or giving money to UNICEF. 

The entertainment industry sells hope as well 

as it makes movies and programming which talks about hope and “the miracle of Christmas,” 

which is found in a heartwarming love story 

or the tale of a lost child or puppy who finds their way home just in time for the big event of a Turkey dinner and presents under the tree. 

But for us Christians, the hope of the season 

is wrapped up, not in a in beautiful ribbons and bows, 

but in swaddling. That is, literally, shop rags, and lying in a feed bunk in a barn. 

An unlikely setting for hope, to be sure, but one established by the word of God and continued through every generation since.

But today's texts don't seem so focused on hope, do they? 

Well, the Isaiah text does, as it looks forward to the day when Jesus will return to usher in a new heaven and earth. 

And in his vision there is no death, no such thing as the hunted and hunter, 

and it is a very pastoral, peaceful, scene. 

But it is not very helpful in terms of our life in the here and now. 

But in Paul's letter to the Romans, he is really focused on proclaiming the gentiles claim to salvation, 

and in the gospel we hear John's cranky rant being fired at the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

In short, on this second Sunday in advent, 

we aren't so much faced with the active actions of God, like we were last week, 

but rather, we are faced with the opportunity to react. 

We must confront the text, the word of God itself,

 and decide, “what are we going to do with it?”

In his letter to the Romans Paul reminds us that 

the Messiah’s coming was predicted throughout the Old Testament, “for our instruction.” 

moreover, that these same writings would help us endure and encourage us so that, “we might have hope.” 

even though the Romans knew about Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners, they still needed hope. 

And Paul wanted them -- and US --to know 

that hope came from God himself through the scriptures, 

and that this hope is also extended to the gentiles who believe in that hope of salvation.

But in our gospel today, while it may seem to be all Law, it actually acknowledges the Gospel in a bold way, 

even if not an obvious one to the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

John was preaching a baptism of repentance 

and had become popular for doing so. 

Even the church officials of the day saw that it would be good to take part in what he was offering. 

And what was that? What was this baptism of repentance? 

Well, John's mantra, “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” 

is essentially a plea for people to stop behaving like unbelievers 

and start behaving like God's people, because God is about to return. 

And, as a sign that people had committed themselves to preparing for the Lord's arrival by changing their ways, 

(repentance literally means a change in direction and behavior,)

 John would baptize them in the holy Jordan river to mark the occasion. 

And since the Pharisees and Sadducees believed that they were already following the laws perfectly themselves, 

there was no need for their repentance, per se, 

but they surely desired to be marked with the waters of baptism as proof of their state of readiness.

But John says, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

 You see, they thought they were already holy simply by being marked with circumcision. 

That was the mark of God's covenant with Abraham. 

And the Jews treated it as a “get-out-of­jail-free” card. 

What God had intended as a mark to remind them never to leave God and his saving love, 

Israel had treated into a tether by which they drug God into whatever horrible messes they walked into. 

Where God intended there to be a symbol of his love for Israel, Israel turned it into a badge of honor and accomplishment. 

It was like they said, “Because we have made this alteration to our bodies, God must take us.”

“Whatever we do, this covenant of God's ties God's hands from abolishing or destroying us.” 

John is instead warning them, calling them a brood of Vipers, 

because their venomous words kill what is healthy 

and their attacks on scripture as they misinterpret God's word is pure evil. 

John is telling them, you can't claim the symbol of repentance, that is, baptism, if you haven't changed directions. 

Just like uou can't claim to be the boxing champion of the world if you never fought anyone.

 You can't claim to be the beloved leader of a nation if no one voted for you. 

And you can't claim repentance 

if you haven't stopped your sinful ways 

and, instead, have begun to be the good that God requires of you 

as a person changed by his forgiveness 

and as one who has faith in his continued love for you.

Every week I hope you hear John's cry, “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” with joy, not shame. 

Because it means that Jesus is still coming and we still have time to change our ways! 

We still have opportunity to be the kind of disciple Jesus had in mind when he gave us the Great Commission. 

And we still have the ability to work out our problems as we take up our cross daily and follow him. 

But when we repent it also means that the Holy Spirit has finally gotten through to our hearts. 

That the hardness which made our souls resistant to the good news has cracked

 and we are no longer stubbornly claiming an ability to save ourselves, 

or, worse yet, claiming no need to be saved, like the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

This is why we confess our sins each week. 

So that we don't allow that hard that heart time to harden again. 

And so that we continually seek the Holy Spirit’s reforming and transforming work 

which not only delivers forgiveness, life and salvation, 

but moves and motivates us toward the, “fruits of repentance.”

 As we live differently than those who are not children of God, 

and as we seek to undo the efforts of the wrong we have done in the past, 

we, indeed, bear those fruits. 

And in the end, it will be those of us who have repented who are brought into the Kingdom of heaven. 

Not the posers who claim to repent but never intended to be truly sorry and change their ways, 

nor those who see no need to repent because they don't think they have done anything wrong.

So, as we look for hope this advent, let's not overlook the hope that comes through repentance. 

As we realize that not only can we not solve save ourselves,

 but that Jesus has already saved us. 

And, instead of trying to prove how good we are, 

rest in the knowledge that the goodness of Jesus freed you from your sins. 

And, as we find solace in the hope we have in our own resurrections through Jesus, 

we might be emboldened and encouraged through his Word 

to stop, change directions, and commit to following the ways of Jesus, 

until he leads us to our eternal reward. 

I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.