Second Sunday of Advent

Pastor Eric Deibler

  • Isaiah 11:1-10
  • Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
  • Romans 15:4-13
  • Matthew 3:1-12
  • Mary is 92.
    1. She was born small, just over five pounds.
      1. And for weeks, she struggled to survive.
        • She was rh+ and her mother was rh-, but at the time they didn’t know about that kind of thing.
      2. She remained small and “a weakling” (in her words) until she was about six, when she finally started to really grow.
        • She topped out at 5’2”.
          • But of course, at 92, she’s shorter than that now.
          • She has terrible vision.
            • And always has.
          • She had a pacemaker implanted several years ago, which of course, has allowed her to live longer than she might have otherwise.
        • The extension of her life, granted her by something miraculous as a pacemaker, is now a mixed blessing.
          • Not because she’s suffering the natural results of her age.
            • Which of course she is, but those various things are something that she accepts with aplomb.
            • She is an intelligent, vibrant individual with a high degree of intellectual curiosity.
              • So she’s always got something new to talk about.
  1. What makes her long life a mixed blessing is that she is now in the unenviable position of having to watch her son die.
  2. He was born when she was all of 20 years old.
    • Which, of course, makes him 72 now.
    • And while 72 is what we might now call “older”, in the popular imagination it’s not really seen as being “old” anymore.
    • 72 is advanced middle aged.
      • 92 is old.
  1. But 18 years ago Mary’s son, Ryan, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; a disease which, in the course of Ryan’s life and the life of his family, is now coming to its inevitable conclusion.
    • And so Mary, at 92, comes to visit her son who’s in hospice.
  2. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
    1. It’s not what you expect.
      • Children are the ones who are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around!
      • It’s all mixed up.
        • How do you manage to get through something like that?
        • There must be some mistake!
      • That’s probably what John the Baptizer ends up thinking.
        1. Not in today’s lesson.
          1. But later.
        2. In today’s lesson, we get the visceral John the Baptizer, full of sass and vinegar.
        3. 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.”

  1. This is one of those lessons that grabs the attention and the imagination and instantly transports us to that time and place.
    • We can imagine being there and hearing these words pouring out of John, and we’re going through our mental list, ticking off the names of everyone who’s part of that brood of vipers.
      • They’re not just an anonymous, amorphous group.
        • No, most of us probably know exactly who belongs in that group.
        • We can probably picture each and every one of them in our mind.
      • For all the slights they’ve perpetrated against us, we can only too easily imagine the holy vengeance being brought upon them.
        • The ax at the root of the trees, on the chopping block, the baptism by fire and the burning of the chaff!!
          • Much like John, we can’t wait for this Jesus, John’s Jesus, to come!
        • The only problem is that: he never does.
          • How do we know?
            • Because just eight chapters later we find John, sitting in prison, wondering:
              1. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
  1. Clearly John, upon hearing what’s happening, is beginning to have doubts about the one, whom he so unquestioningly endorsed on the banks of the Jordan.
  • Clearly, it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
    • At least to John’s mind.
  1. And clearly, Jesus affirms that things are not the way John imagined them to be: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
    1. No ax, no chopping block, no chaff, no all-consuming unquenchable fire.
      • Jesus, clearly, is not what John imagined him to be.
    2. Instead, Jesus brings a new and different understanding to what it means to be a Messiah.
      • He brings an understanding that is more directly reflective of God and God’s nature.
        • It’s characterized by healing, Good News and blessedness.
      • “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
  • We find ourselves at an interesting point in our life together.
    1. When we first arrived here, eight years ago, Calvary found itself at a critical juncture.
      1. Having had to go into survival mode for a while, our attention was inwardly focused.
    2. Over the past several years we’ve come quite a distance in learning how to be more outward oriented and mission focused.
      1. And yet there remains concern about the future of Calvary.
      2. It’s a concern that is understandable.
    3. Like Mary and her son Ryan, Like John the Baptizer and Jesus, we find ourselves in a situation that is unfamiliar and disconcerting for some.
      1. Our future is less uncertain now, than when we first arrived.
        • But we also recognize that the way forward is going to be tricky to navigate.
      2. We sort of find ourselves in the position of John the Baptizer, having to deal with the fact that our perception doesn’t quite match up with our reality.
  • This isn’t supposed to happen to a church.
    • People should be flocking to us!
    • The community should be supporting us!
  1. The problem is that the nature of our broader culture has changed.
    1. People don’t flock to churches anymore.
      • And the fluidity and mobility of society today means that people are more hesitant to put down roots if they know that they’re going to be moving again in a few years.
    2. The culture of church itself has changed.
      1. When I was growing up, attending church regularly was understood as attending every week.
        • Now it’s more like once every couple of weeks or even once a month.
  • Mary’s problem is not the fact that her son is dying.
    1. There’s nothing she can do about it, and so it’s completely out of her hands.
      1. Mary’s problem is how she deals with the fact that her son is dying.
        • In this instance, she allows herself to be sustained by her faith and by the presence of her family.
  • John the Baptizer’s problem is not that Jesus doesn’t measure up.
    1. After all what Jesus says to John is, in essence, “This is what you get!”
    2. John’s problem is that his understanding of Jesus as Messiah does not match up with the reality of Christ.
  • Likewise the challenge we face is not an uninterested public, nor is it the changing community.
    1. The challenge for us is twofold:
      1. 1 – How do we find God in the current situation?
        • Where do we find God right now?
        • How do we experience God right now, in the midst of our uncertainty and wondering?
      2. and 2 – What is God calling us to do?
  • Those are the questions that your LEAD team has been working to answer over the past several years.
    1. They’re questions that we must answer together.
    2. I can’t tell you what the answer will be.
      1. Because if there’s one thing the Bible teaches us, it is that our expectations of God and God’s reality are often two very different things.
        • This is not the way it’s supposed to be.
        • Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
  • But what I do know is that God is with us and that God’s promise to us is that, as God’s children, we will be sustained and upheld no matter what God calls us to do.
    1. I also know that God is constantly birthing new possibilities in the midst of what appears to be impossibility.
      1. So that in the midst of losing her son, Mary can find the space not only to grieve, but to laugh.
      2. And in the midst of his confusion and apparent disappointment, John hears that God’s healing and gracious presence have come into the world.
  • A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
    • This is an expression of God’s promise to us.
      • It’s also part of the orders for both baptism and confirmation.
      • Regardless of what happens here, our heritage as God’s children is not something that can be taken from us.
      • We are God’s children and strengthened by God’s sacraments and God’s word; led by Holy Spirit, we will together discern what we are called to do.
  1. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


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