Second Sunday in Advent (Year A, 5 December 2010)

Confronted, converted, consoled

Isaiah 11.1-10
Matthew 3.1-12

The spiritual writer Richard Rohr says this in his series Preparing for Christmas:

‘The Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us—in that order.’

I’d like us to think about our preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives and into our world with those words in mind:

The Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us—in that order.

The Word of God confronts us:

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like to have John the Baptist as a neighbour. I reckon he’d be an argumentative old… thing. If you invited him for a barbecue, he’d insist on bringing his own locusts to chuck on the barbie rather than have snags and kangaroo steaks. And he’d want to talk about the state of my soul all the time.

He’d be a confronting neighbour. He’d always be telling me to repent of this and that and the other thing.

I’d get annoyed at his continual going on and on. After all, I’m a minister of the Word. I’ve got a PhD in theology. I work full-time for God! Surely I’m ok?

And John, for the last time, I don’t want a piece of barbecued locust! I don’t care if it does have your special wild honey marinade! I just don’t want to eat locust!

What did the ‘real’ John the Baptist say to the religious leaders of the day?

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.

There is no special privilege just because you are a religious leader, John is saying. There is no special privilege just because you are a religious person.

Just going to church doesn’t do anything for you if your heart isn’t right.

Just showing up and not allowing the Word of God to confront us gets us nowhere.

Perhaps I need a neighbour like John the Baptist, even if I don’t want one… I certainly need God’s Word to confront me.

The Word of God converts us:

Once we are confronted by the Word that God speaks to us, we are able to be converted. John calls the religious leaders a ‘brood of vipers’. He wasn’t tactful, wasn’t our John.

They had a choice about what to do with this confronting word. They could hear it as a word from John, and decide he was a bit touched by the hot Judaean sun; or they could hear it as a Word from God.

They didn’t have to do anything if it was only John calling them names. He’s daft as a brush is what they’d say where I was born. But if God calls you a brood of vipers through his servant John, that’s altogether different. Then you have to do something about it.

You have to change when God confronts you. In biblical language, you have to do a U-turn. That’s what ‘repent’ means. That’s what John the Baptiser means when he says, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Change the way you think, change the way you act. Change those, and your heart will follow. Turn around. Come back to God. Find your true home in the heart of God.

So we can say that just showing up to church and not allowing the Word of God to confront and convert us gets us nowhere.

The Word of God consoles us:

There are lots of consoling words in the scriptures. the classic consoling word might be John 3.16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

In today’s Old Testament reading, we look forward to the coming of the Promised One:

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.…
…with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

We Christians believe that these words were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. We also look for a time of universal peace, which has not yet arrived:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them…
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full
of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Great words, and a wonderful hope. You know, the Word of God does console us—but only after it confronts and converts us. Sometimes, we rush to get a consoling word from scripture without letting it confront and convert us. It doesn’t work.

John said, ‘You brood of vipers!’ It takes a work of God in our hearts to hear words like that as consoling words. We need to be converted first.

John the Baptiser was speaking to people who took their place among God’s people for granted. If we too take our place in God’s family for granted, then that confronting word is for us:

You brood of vipers, you mob of taipans… 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.

God can and does use all sorts of people to do his work. God isn’t limited. God can use Uniting, Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, any Christian. But it doesn’t end there—God can use Moslem, Buddhist, atheist as well. God isn’t limited. God is the God of all people. If we take our place in the family of God for granted, God will raise up other children from the very stones themselves. And we’ll be left in the dust.

The Word of God consoles us and shows us that we are God’s children. But first, there is a work of confronting. And converting.

It may seem like we have two faces of God here. A stern face, bringing judgement; a bright face, bringing joy. You might think I’m saying we have to endure the confronting judgement of God before we can know God’s consoling grace. Not at all.

I am saying this: God’s face to us his children is always a face of love. Always. It is never anything else. But sometimes we experience that great and gracious love as a stern judgement.

Doesn’t make sense? This picture may help. Think about a little toddler. She is about to pick up dad’s hot cup of coffee to give to him. Dad worries that she’ll spill it, so he shouts ‘No!’—and his child dissolves in tears. Dad picks her up and gives her the biggest cuddle, until she forgets about the coffee.

Why does dad cry out, ‘No!’? Is it anger? Is it judgement? No, it’s love from first to last. But it’s love that confronts what the child is about to do.

And when God says No, it is a word of grace to us. It keeps us from straying off the path. No guides us in green pastures, beside still waters, it protects us in the valley of the shadow of death.

This Word of grace allows life to come out of grief, out of sorrow, out of disappointment. Out of death. It allows us to respond in faith, hope and love to the shoot that comes from the branch of Jesse, the father of King David. The picture of the new life coming out of the old is very important to me: the picture you see is a leadlight that was commissioned by Karen as an ordination present to me, almost 22 years ago.


"A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse"

The Word of God confronts us and converts us; then, it consoles us. Allow the Word to confront you, allow God to say No to you where No is what you need to hear; be converted, turn back to God, come home to the Father; and allow the Spirit to console you, share the new life of the shoot growing from what was a dead stump. Share the life of God for evermore.

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Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

3 responses to “Second Sunday in Advent (Year A, 5 December 2010)

  1. Mary

    It is true we serve a God who has great concern for us. God’s concern is confronting, converting and consoling. I have learned to bring the seaqson of Advent into my life. I do not know how I missed this rich time of God’s love. To miss the care God sends in my life with the word “NO!” and then with tender arms holds and comforts me. As a Calvinist I have learned that comfort is what Advent is about, that beyond doubt I am loved.

  2. I think everything posted was actually very logical. However, think on this, what if you were to write a awesome post title? I am not saying your information isn’t good, but suppose you added something that makes people desire more? I mean Second Sunday in Advent (Year A, 5 December 2010) | Getting There… 2 steps forward, 1 back is a little boring. You might glance at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create post headlines to grab people to open the links. You might try adding a video or a related picture or two to get readers interested about what you’ve written. Just my opinion, it would bring your posts a little bit more interesting.

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