Advent Door 9: Rubbernecking or Responding?

Pharisees by Karl Schmidt Rottluff

The Advent Door Reading Plan
Day 9 Reading: Matthew 3:1-12

Scripture Summary:
John the Baptizer is forthright and bold as he confronts the people and the religious leaders so they may properly prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

The path through these days is not one that we can fashion from our striving and our skill. When John the Baptist comes over that wilderness horizon, smelling of camel’s hair, his lips dripping with honey and with fire, he is pointing us toward a way that we can make only by what we give up, what we shed, what we let go.- Jan Richardson, Through the Advent Door

John the Baptist isn’t a feel good preacher. I imagine him a wild, unflinching force of nature whose voice rips open the apathy, hypocrisy and false teaching of his day. His message cuts like a plowshare through hard soil, “The time is now. The ax is at the root of the tree. Confess. Repent and bear fruit worthy of repentance.” His message seems harsh, but it’s actually the rescue light of God shining in the darkness.

People came for miles to hear him, desperate for a word from God. It had been four hundred years since a prophet spoke truth to power. They were weary of the condescending stares and complicated rules of the religious leaders; beaten down from years of Roman oppression and corrupt puppet rulers. The One who will gather and clear and burn and set it aright is near. This is good news and they are ready to lay down whatever is necessary in order to be ready.

Some of the religious leaders come to see what’s going on down by the river, too. John doesn’t greet them with the respect they are accustomed to receiving. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to prepare for the change that is coming?” John could see their motivation. They had no interest in making the turn of repentance, in giving up their positions of authority, in shedding their traditions and prejudices. They were keeping up appearances. They were rubbernecking at the spectacle. They came to watch the wild man of the wilderness and to plot how to cage him.

There’s a great divide between rubbernecking and responding. God comes near and invites us to engage. Worship is a verb, as is praying, following, repenting, forgiving, serving, believing…

John was sent ahead like a voice before a word, a lamp before the sun, a herald before a judge, a servant before his master, the best man before the bridegroom. … Let us, too therefore, prepare a way for the Lord who is to come into our hearts. Let us remove the barriers of sin by confession and repentance; let us straighten the paths of our life which for too long have been undirected and devious; let us pave the way of true faith with good works. Let us rid ourselves of all arrogance and lift high our fainting hearts. Then, when all is in order, smoothed, and brought into harmony, we shall see the salvation of God as he is, for “his home is in peace and his dwelling in Zion.” -Rabanus Maurus

Am I engaging? Responding with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Do I worship God or only watch the worship leaders like a person watching the lions at the zoo? Do I join Christ’s work of healing and justice in my community or only ride on by shaking my head at the misfortune? Do I respond to God’s direction and correction or hold on to my agenda and plan?

What point of pride or apathy is God inviting me to shed this holy season in order to fully respond to the call to new life?

A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify,
a never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill;
O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!
– Charles Wesley

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Click here for another reflection on Matthew 3 by Steve Garnaas Holmes entitled The Ax at the Root of the Trees.

This year’s Advent reflections are inspired by the e-book Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas [Kindle Edition] by author and artist Jan Richardson. In the style of a classic Advent calendar, Jan offers twenty five reflections, each with an original piece of art. Consider this your invitation to join me and Jan on this journey to Christmas. – Lisa <><

For more information on the Christian season of Advent, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

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