“Close; and Closing Fast”

Matthew 3:1-12

Advent 2A, December 4, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of

Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come

near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he

said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the

way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing

of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food

was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all

Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,

and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their

sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for

baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you

to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our

ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up

children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the

trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut

down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for

repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after

me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with

the Holy Spirit and fire. 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.”

| Centering Prayer |

The prophetic edge

is sharp.

It is meant to cut,

to contrast,

to set apart,

the current momentum and direction of God’s own people

to the direction that is the will of God.

Prophecy is the voice of God,

spoken through an intermediary,

to a specific people

in a specific time and place.

It is the fusion of earthly observations

with Divine will.

Because prophecy is sharp,

most prophets are pretty jagged.

John the Baptist this morning is no exception:

he is out in the wilderness eating bugs,

dressed in burlap,

making claims and engaging in behaviors

that not only draw a crowd

but also bring down the religious authorities.

Though the will of God was directed for the benefit of

other people living in a different time,

essential truth can be harvested

from even one so controversial and cutting as John the Baptist.

So, what can be learned?

1. Preparation begins with repentance.

We know that Christ has come;

Christ is present with us;

and, yet, we expect

– we look forward to –

Christ that is still to come.

Because Christ has yet to arrive

we’d better be ready.

We had better prepare the way of the Lord.

The way to prepare your life for the coming of the Lord,

according to John the Baptist,

speaking on behalf of God,

is to make repentance of your sins.

Repentance means to recognize when you have breached God’s laws,

making an intentional and thoughtful decision to stop the sinful behavior,

seek forgiveness,

make reparations,

and to set out with a new will and intention to sin no more.

Repentance implies that we don’t forget;

rather, we

use past experience

to modify and improve future decisions and behavior

according to the will of God.

Have you repented of your sins?

If not, there is no better time and place

than right here, right now

at this communion table.

2. The Kingdom of heaven is close; and closing fast.

And we thought Christmas was coming quickly!

The approaching Kingdom is imminent.

It is as close as the next breath.

Yet, because it is according to God’s timing,

it may still be far off.

Death?

Or, Christ returning?

We don’t know when either will be.

All we know is that it is coming.

Therefore, every moment must be lived with the expectation

that God’s Kingdom is imminent,

so, we’d better be ready

every moment of every day.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he writes

For to me, living is Christ

and dying is gain.”

(Philippians 1:21)

Advent living is living in a frame of mind of constant preparation.

I am prepared to die,

Just as

I am prepared to welcome the return of Jesus.

The coming of the Kingdom of God

and the coming of Christ are one and the same.

Thy Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

The dividing chasm will be crossed,

every mountain will be made low

and every valley will be lifted up;

and all will worship the Lamb.

Are you ready?

Are you ready for this great and glorious occasion?

There is no better time or place to be ready

than right here,

right now,

at this communion table

when we eat the bread

and drink the cup

and eat and drink the Christ

and welcome him in.

….

3. Though Christ claims you; Christ also judges you.

Judgment?

Whoa!

One might think that baptism is sufficient;

that because I’ve been baptized by water and the Spirit

that I get a pass when it comes to my final judgment.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pedigrees do not provide an automatic acquittal

and neither does the fact that you might be a baptized disciple of Christ.

Being a child of Abraham

is no better than being a lifelong church leader, teacher, preacher, evangelist or missionary.

Each of us will one day look Jesus Christ in the eye.

Each of us will one day receive the judgment of our Lord,

Our Redeemer,

Our Savior.

We assume that his Divine judgment is like a courtroom

with Christ attired in a black robe and carrying a gavel

and we all rise when he enters.

We assume this is Divine judgment

because that is what we know.

But, quite clearly the Gospel tells us

that judgment takes place on the cross, not in a courtroom.

Sin is drawn to the cross like metal filings are drawn to a magnet.

Our sin is absorbed by the Body of Christ

and we are redeemed by his Blood.

It is like the fire of burning chaff

to hang with the unrepentant thief

mocking Jesus with cat calls and jeers.

Similarly, it is all that we can ever hope for

to be gathered into God’s eternal granary with the promise

“today you will be with me in paradise.”

If the cross is our judgment

and the grave is our sentence,

than the empty tomb is this promise:

the coming of the Lord justifies us

– makes us right with the Lord –

and we are welcomed into our eternal home;

where heaven and earth are one

and all is known as God’s Kingdom.

Are you ready for the Christ that is yet to come?

Do not fear!

Repent.

Draw close to this Table.

Eat his bread; drink his wine.

Make Christ a part of you,

living in you,

working through you.

Then, there is no fear.

There is only hope and anticipation.

Amen.

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