Second Sunday in Advent: Are We There Yet?

Second Sunday in Advent: Are We There Yet?

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

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.”  —Matthew 3:1-12

The voice from my car’s computerized mapping system announced I had reached my destination. Instead of pulling up in front of the physician’s office I was visiting for the first time, I pulled up to a vacant lot. Regardless of what the system said, I had not reached my destination. I definitely was not there yet!

In our text, John the Baptist proves a superior navigator. People are drawn to him in the wilderness because he is proclaiming, “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” People are eager to move from the Roman Empire’s reign to God’s reign, which is “the kingdom of heaven” for Matthew. This kin-dom is near because God has sent his agent to show us the way to God’s will. God’s agent, Jesus, later joins the group of hopeful people. Jesus will simply not give them and us directions, but show us the way to God’s will by his living and by his dying.

I find it impressive that the people of Jerusalem, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, and all Judea were brave enough to journey to the wilderness in the first place to seek solace in a wild man. They must have desperately wanted something different!

Not Enough

There comes a time when living in a comfortable dwelling or having a powerful position is not enough. There comes a time when we realize there must be an alternative to constantly doing things our way with unsatisfactory endings. There comes a time when watching nightly news causes us to long for the kin-dom of heaven on earth.

When those times come, our wilderness can be a deep dive inside ourselves. It is there we discover how we stray from the path laid out by Jesus. We discover when “we have not loved our neighbors...have not heard the cry of the needy,” as the United Methodist Confession and Pardon prayer says. In the solitude of self, the Holy Spirt can reveal ways to draw us near to the kin-dom of heaven.

The kin-dom comes near when a college professor invites her students far from home to her house for a Christmas feast. It comes near when a once drug-peddling relative who has been released from prison is embraced and supported by her family. It comes near when a Christmas shopping day is replaced by spending an evening with a lonely 95-year-old. The kin-dom of heaven comes near when we collectively raise our voices to demand imprisoned immigrant children be released, then stand ready to care for them.

We may yet be farther than we desire from the kin-dom of heaven. Sometimes we may fall short of following God’s will. We may not be there yet. The good news, however, is there’s still time to bear fruit worthy of our repentance.

Prayer: Redeeming Jesus, continue to show us the way to God. Anchoring Spirit, give us the will to follow. Amen.

Sherrie Dobbs Johnson is a former managing editor of response magazine, and retired United Methodist clergy living in New Jersey.

Posted or updated: 12/5/2019 12:00:00 AM

Give Thanks. Give Now.

Advent 2019

December 1: First Sunday of Advent
December 8: Second Sunday of Advent
December 15: Third Sunday of Advent
December 22: Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24: Christmas Eve
December 31: New Year's Eve