Sermon Transcript - Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Matthew 3:1-11 ~ Wed, Dec 11, 2019
It started with just a handful, but soon it was hundreds, and then by the thousands. They made the trip, trekking out of the comfort and convenience of their cities, walking ten, twenty, thirty miles even more out into the wilderness, into the desert. Why? For a sermon.
The message of this desert prophet was essentially this: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Did they understand what that meant? Did they go expecting to see a man dressed in camel’s hair eating locust and honey? Did they expect a wild man who was willing to say whatever it took to save their lives? Did they make the trip because they longed to hear a man who held nothing back? Someone with the guts to tell them how it was? Did they go because they heard he preached unpolished, unvarnished, unequivocal truth? Sure it wasn’t easy to hear. Sometimes it was downright harsh. It hurt, cutting straight to the heart. Regardless, no matter who you were, all were confronted with the reality and truth of their lives.
He may have been a bit of a wild man, but his message caught on. We might wonder why he became so popular. After all, “come to Jesus” type messages aren’t usually received so well. But perhaps it was just the right time for the people of God. Maybe he spoke around the start of a new year, when people were looking for a resolution to make that would change their lives. Perhaps they were simply weary of the way the world was going and welcomed the call for change. Maybe they were grateful for a voice that was bluntly honest in a way that truly resonated with them. I think the people of God, much like us today, were longing for a new direction. And in that longing, they were able to hear John’s message as one not of dismissive condemnation, but of love.
The sharp-edge of John’s preaching reminds us that God’s love is not a platitude, but is a deep, abiding love that extends to us even when we are at our worst, and facing in the wrong direction entirely. So often we hear cries of “repent” as a message of judgment that should bring about guilty feelings. But John’s message is not about a guilt-induced change of heart. John’s message reminds us that God cares for us deeply, and that God’s love isn’t contingent on our good behavior. In fact, that’s a central point of Christ coming into the world – to show us God’s love firsthand, in and amongst the messiness of our everyday lives.
I don’t know about you, but if I have unexpected company, or just run out of time before visitors come, I have a tendency to reach a point in my cleaning and tidying up that I start to, well, “hide” things. That pile of mail I don’t have time to sort through? It can just get tucked away in that drawer. And those other things that are sitting out? Maybe they can fit in that closet. That way my house looks nice, and unless our guests open all the closets, no one will be the wiser. As a result, my house often looks cleaner than it actually is.
The Pharisees and Sadducees also came to hear John the Baptist and were coming to be baptized. John responds by calling them a “brood of vipers,” indicating that there is something up with their approach that is not entirely in line with the well-known instructions for faithful living. One commentary notes that they may have been genuine in their intents, but something was still awry:
Perhaps they wanted a bit of his message, but not too much – enough to clear the conscience and remove the guilt, enough so that they need no longer to [be] haunted by the past, enough to feel good again. (Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year A, Walter Brueggemann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa ,and James D. Newsome, editors, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).)
But not enough to really change them much.
Is this where you want to spend your Advent season? Is this what you’re interested in hearing too? A little taste of the good news of Christmas, say “aww” at the sweet little baby in a manger, and then go on your way with a little extra spring in your step? “I’m not looking to really tackle the heart-deep, real life kind of change that God is calling me to. All I really want to hear is the heart-warming sentiment that I’m forgiven and in the end I’m going to heaven with Jesus. Keep it simple, preacher, and I’ll just stuff those more difficult, challenging issues into the closet where they belong to deal with when I have more time.”
John proclaims that the kingdom of God is near. It’s coming. Before we have time to get everything hidden again. The doorbell is ringing. The Lord is here . . . are we ready to open the door? This is the question of Advent. John the Baptizer calls us to fling open those junk drawers and crammed closets in our lives and sort through our stuff so that we can truly be ready and have a clean heart and a clear mind for the one who is to come. And then, he goes and opens all that we have tried to keep hidden. Are we willing to let Jesus into the crazy, mixed up lives we have made for ourselves?
The good news is this – Christ can handle our messiness. In fact, that’s a lot of his reason for coming into the world. Jesus is one of those friends who doesn’t judge you haven’t vacuumed or dusted when he comes over. In fact, he’s the one who walks in and picks up the broom to start sweeping. He’s not rummaging through your closets and clothes hampers because he’s looking to dig up some dirt against you or find some juicy detail he can spread around about you. He’s in the laundry business, washing and rinsing, and will help you get even the most stubborn stains out. That, friends, is the result of God’s love for us; a God who doesn’t overlook but overcomes all our messes.
John’s message is more than a sermon about how we must change. He preaches into our hearts the One who fills us with the power to change! So perhaps our question should be less of are we ready to repent this Advent, and more are we ready to embrace the incredible love God has for us and all the cleansing things His love wants to do in us? Our king loves us so much. So much that he has comes with the power of his love that truly works in us the kind of changes we need most. The message we need to hear is the sermon that John delivers: the unvarnished truth that Jesus comes near to you and me to create new hearts that bring forth new life and new ways of living from within us! Amen.