Isaiah 11: 1-10 Romans 15: 4-9 Matthew 3: 1-12
When we came into this church building today, it may have been evident how stark it is in contrast to what is experienced nearly everywhere else. Here it is simple and plain. There are no decorations other than the Advent Wreath and the Giving Tree. Other places we go might have elaborate lighting, decorations and incessant Christmas music.
Such a sharp contrast is also found in the words God speaks to us in the Scriptures we heard today. We have heard the calming, pastoral tones in the words of Isaiah, the prophet. There is the hope of the restoration which will come when the Lord will be with the people. The obvious enemies of nature will lie peacefully with one another. The effect of sin which brought disorder, hatred, and murder into the world will be eliminated when sin is eliminated. This passage carries with it many of the hopeful and happy elements which are part of the Advent and Christmas celebration.
In contrast, however, we heard the strong and demanding voice of the Baptizer. He calls to repentance, to a change of heart, to a baptism signifying a commitment to a new way of life. John is not afraid to call the leaders, who may have fulfilled the law and had been perfect in their Jewish practice, vipers, snakes, despicable characters, who needed more than others the experience of conversion.
Although the contrast in the tone is evident, there is a connection between these messages. In Isaiah, the vision, hope and possibility of what faithful belief in God can bring about is not just a wish or a thought. It is active, lived out and reflected in our lives and in our world. And it is the call of John the Baptizer that reminds us that change, reform, repentance is necessary for all of us, no matter one’s status, if this vision and hope of Isaiah is to happen.
The coming of the Lord, the accomplishment of the beautifully poetical image of Isaiah, takes place only after hard work by all of us, all of the Church, in recognizing the need in all of us for constant and continuous change, reform and growth. None of us can rest on our laurels. All of us must work, must examine ourselves and change what needs to be changed. We are to work so as to convince all who are around us that a better world is possible if the effort is made.
Having heard the words of John the Baptizer today, and the hoping for the vision of Isaiah, we can ask ourselves some questions. How are we to be like John and prepare the way for the Lord in our lives and in our world? How are we to make straight the paths of our lives for ourselves and for others? How do we bring to a more complete experience, in all aspects of our lives, the message of the Seasons of Advent and Christmas: the coming among us, the living with us, the full presence with us in Jesus Christ, of our good and gracious God?