a homily for Advent 2A
Text: Matthew 3:1-12
In the wilderness, a hero
As our story begins, it says John “appeared in the wilderness.” Other verbs would convey motion: John walked, wandered, or made his way. Our verb “appeared” lacks motion:
he was not—then he was.
John appeared, like an apparition, it seems from nothing.
Our heroes—mighty and insignificant—always appear to us. They never seem to come from somewhere. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Superman. They have origins, beginnings, lives before, and yet, it seems that out of nowhere—the wilderness—they appear. They change the world. Here, in this world, and in the stories we tell each other.
Yet, they appear in the wilderness, not emerge from the wilderness. John appears in the desert. Where his people are. We are reminded of place and purpose from Isaiah:
the voice of one crying out
in the wilderness
prepare the way of the lord
make his paths straight
He is in the wilderness and it is in the wilderness that we prepare.
And what of the snakes?
The people flock to John like a charismatic fire & brimstone preacher. They come from all over. John watches as some come into the wilds. He sees them with their nice clothes, their status, their swelled heads. He knows who they are.
“You children of snakes!” he spits. How do you hear what I say? What have you done—for good or bad? Your name, your status are nothing to GOD.
John’s message, what he says in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” is a troubling enough message to hear this time of year. And he seems to reject some—the leaders, the educated, the powerful—as they come to him.
We don’t want to think of rejection—particularly those people who have left their comfort zone; who trade in the city for the wilderness—as we want all to be “worthy of repentance”. Particularly us. Most of us are pretty comfortable. We are all religious leaders, so many of us with our many years of experience in mission, formation, or worship ministries; serving with the altar guild, Sunday school, or food pantry.
Isn’t the message of repentance for everybody?
John is where GOD is
John appears in the wilderness preaching repentance because the wilderness is wild and untamed by humanity. It is not controlled by Rome, by occupiers from far away. It is not owned or domesticated or burned down to fuel the conquering of the world—peace through war. The wilds, the desert, the spaces where GOD still reigns, where humanity gets lost and confused and frightened and where things seem so dangerous—that is where John appears and says the kingdom is near! Prepare for it! Repent!
Those from the wild lands hear this good news and they do! They come to John and they:
- seek forgiveness for their past
- are baptized
- live a new way.
The Pharisees and Sadducees smelled like Rome. Of comfort. Of being owned and controlled. Nothing wild. They come to John and he takes them for tourists. What do you want? The rocks on the ground have more to offer GOD. They have more wild than you. They come to the wilds, but unless they become wild, they won’t know the kingdom.
Into the Wilds
As we talked about last week, Advent is about preparing for the kingdom that is coming near. Now we receive John’s call to repent—to seek forgiveness for who we are and then become who GOD wants us to be. To live, not in the domesticated humanity of empire, but in the wilderness of the kingdom.
For GOD came, is coming, is here with us; not blessing our humble indifference or worldly efforts to be kind, but to help us “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” To help us not be tourists, snapping pictures of chronic blight that infects Detroit and Port Huron, only to return to the safety of our homes, but instead to be neighbors, friends, family who bear witness and participate in what GOD is already doing in the wilds—downtown and outside the cities.
And of our own wilds? GOD’s kingdom is coming and it is ours to share in, not because we are Episcopalians or we were baptized and received communion or we took Jesus into our hearts or because we come to church regularly, but because GOD believes in us; trusts us; hopes and dreams for us; calls us and invites us saying You know your way isn’t truly safe or comfortable or right or joyful—it cannot give you what it promises. Out here, where I am at, I can lead you to real freedom and happiness.
We are invited to act now: because the kingdom of heaven is already near. A kingdom in which all are fed, shown dignity, and are treated like royalty. On earth as in heaven.