The Second Sunday of Advent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 3:1-12

FOR FOUR HUNDRED YEARS, THERE WAS A GREAT SILENCE IN THE LAND. IN ALL THIS TIME, THE VOICE OF THE LORD HAD NOT COME TO THE PEOPLE AS IT HAD IN THE DAYS OF OLD. THEY HAD, HOWEVER, THE RECORD OF WHAT THE LORD HAD SPOKEN TO THEM IN THE LAW THAT HE GAVE TO MOSES, IN THE RECORD OF WHAT HE SAID TO THEM THROUGH THE NEVI’IM, THE PROPHETS, AND IN THEIR OWN STORIES OF THE PAST THEY HAD PUT TOGETHER OVER TIME. IN ADDITION, THEY HAD THE GREAT TEMPLE, OF WHICH THEY WERE INORDINATELY PROUD, WITH ITS VAST CULT OF RULES AND REQUIRED SACRIFICES, ITS NEW MOON FESTIVALS, AND DEDICATED PILGRIMAGES. YET, THE VOICE OF THE LORD WAS SILENT. SO THEY STUDIED THE WRITTEN REMEMBRANCES OF WHAT THE LORD HAD SPOKEN TO THEM, AND, IN THEIR ZEALOUSNESS, ADDED TO THEM TO PROTECT AND PRESERVE THEM. TO THE TEN COMMANDMENTS GIVEN TO THEM BY THE LORD, THEY ADDED 613 LAWS AS A HEDGE TO AID IN THEIR OBSERVANCE. SOME TOOK GREAT PRIDE IN WHAT GOD HAD PROMISED TO THEIR ANCESTOR ABRAHAM. IF THE VOICE OF THE LORD REMAINED SILENT, SOME WOULD SPEAK TO HIM THROUGH THEIR RITUAL PURITY AND RIGOROUS RELIGIOSITY. YET MOST JUST LONGED TO HEAR THE VOICE OF THE LORD IN THE LAND.

SUDDENLY, OUT IN THE DESERT, THERE APPEARED ONE WHO LOOKED AND ACTED JUST LIKE ONE OF THE PROPHETS OF OLD. THIS MAN NAMED JOCHANON, WHOM WE CALL JOHN, WHO’S NAME MEANT YAHWEH IS GRACIOUS, HAD ALL THE SIGNS OF AN ANCIENT PROPHET. HE LIVED APART FROM THE CORRUPTION OF THE CITIES, LIVED THE LIFE OF AN AESTHETIC, SPURNED EVEN THE COMFORT OF CLOTH, AND LIVED OFF THE LAND. WITH HIS APPEARANCE, IT WAS IF THE PAST DAYS WERE COME AGAIN, AND, IN HIS WORDS, THE PEOPLE COULD HEAR THE VOICE OF THE LORD ONCE MORE. THIS IS WHY SO MANY CAME OUT TO THE DESERT TO HEAR WHAT HE HAD TO SAY, BECAUSE HE BROUGHT THE PAST FOR WHICH THEY LONGED INTO THE PRESENT; THERE WAS, AT LAST, A PROPHET IN THE LAND, AND HE HAD A WORD FROM GOD THE PEOPLE WERE READY TO HEAR.

THE SACRIFICIAL CULT OF THE TEMPLE, AND THE BURDENSOME ADDITIONS TO THE LAW OF GOD, HAD OBSCURED THE GRACIOUSNESS WHICH GOD HAD INTENDED FOR HIS PEOPLE. WHAT HAD BEEN MEANT AS AN EXPRESSION OF GOD’S LOVE HAD BECOME AN OBLIGATION SO OPPRESSIVE IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO MEET. THIS IS WHY JOHN WAS SO HARSH WITH THE SADDUCEES AND PHARISEES WHO CAME OUT TO HEAR HIM; THEY OPPRESSED THE PEOPLE WITH THEIR TEACHINGS, AND RELIED ON THEIR FAMILY HISTORY AS THE BASIS FOR THEIR AUTHORITY. JOHN’S MESSAGE IGNORED BOTH THE TEMPLE CULT AND THE OPPRESSIVE RIGIDITY OF THE ADDITIONS TO THE LAW; REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME NEAR!

THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND INTUITIVELY GRASPED THIS MESSAGE IN THE CONTEXT OF THE PROPHETS OF OLD; ALL OF WHOM STRESSED THE NEED TO GET ONE’S HEART RIGHT WITH GOD. LOOKING FORWARD TO THE DAY OF THE LORD WAS ALSO A STRONG MOTIF IN THE WORDS OF THE NAVI; AND JOHN’S MESSAGE MADE THAT COMING DAY IMMANENT. HIS CALL TO BAPTISM HAD ITS ROOTS IN THE RITUAL BATH OF THE MIKVA, BUT INSTEAD OF A WASHING FOR RITUAL PURITY, JOHN’S BAPTISM WAS FOR REPENTANCE; THE CONFESSION OF SINS AND SEEKING OF THE FORGIVING GRACE OF GOD. IN THE CALL OF THE LAST AND GREATEST PROPHET OF OLD IS THE PROCLAMATION OF THE FUTURE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, WHICH IS AT HAND. OUT OF THE PAST, THE FUTURE IS REVEALED; AND JOCHANON, YAHWEH IS GRACIOUS, PREPARED THE PEOPLE FOR JESHUA, YAHWEH SAVES.

ADVENT IS THE TIME WHEN THE CHURCH GOES BACK TO THE FUTURE, BECAUSE THE PAST LEADS US TO THE FUTURE. LIKE ISRAEL OF OLD, WE TOO LONG TO HEAR THE VOICE OF THE LORD IN THE LAND, AND, LIKE ISRAEL OF OLD, WE POUR OVER THE WORDS THE LORD SPOKE TO US IN THE PAST TO DISCOVER HIS WORD FOR US TODAY AS IT POINTS US TO WHERE THE LORD IS LEADING US. FOR US, HOWEVER, THE LONG SILENCE HAS BEEN BROKEN, FOR THE LORD HAS SPOKEN TO US IN THE WORDS OF JESUS, HIS WORD MADE FLESH. WITH THE WORD OF GOD WHICH HAS COME TO US IN JESUS, WE CAN LOOK BACK TO THE PAST AND SEE THE LOVING GRACE OF GOD SHINING THROUGH THE LONG YEARS OF OLD, AND IT IS THAT GRACE THAT SHOWS US THE SHAPE OF THE FUTURE.

IN THE WORD OF GOD WHICH CAME TO THE PEOPLE IN THE WORDS OF JOHN, THAT SOMEWHAT TESTY WILDMAN WHO CAME OUT OF THE DESERT, IS THE WORD OF GOD’S REDEEMING GRACE; REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR!” THE CALL TO REPENTANCE IS THE CALL TO TURN BACK TO GOD, AND IN THAT CALL IS THE GRACE OF OUR LOVING GOD. HE WANTS US TO TURN AWAY FROM ALL THAT STANDS BETWEEN US AND HIM, AND TO TURN BACK TO HIM IN A RELATIONSHIP OF LOVE AND TRUST WHICH CAN NOT BE BROKEN. HERE IS THE WONDROUS NEWS OF THE GRACE OF GOD; GOD WANTS US TO BE HIS OWN! IN THE CALL TO REPENTANCE, ALL THE PAST WORDS OF GOD ARE DISTILLED INTO THE CALL TO COME TO ME! IN THAT CALL IS THE PROMISE OF THE FUTURE, WHICH WILL BE OUR LIFE WITH OUR GOD, AND, IN THAT LIFE WITH GOD, THE VOICE OF THE LORD WILL NEVER BE SILENT AGAIN.

SO IN THIS TIME OF BACK TO THE FUTURE, AS WE AWAIT THE CELEBRATION OF HOW OUR LORD CAME TO US IN JESUS TO FULFILL HIS PROMISE OF HIS CALL TO US, AND, AS WE PONDER HOW HE WILL COME TO US AGAIN IN GREAT GLORY AND MAJESTY TO RULE FOREVER, LET US HEED THE WORDS OF JOCHANON, “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR.” LET US TURN AWAY FROM THE DISTRACTIONS OF THE WORLD, TURN FROM THE FRANTIC HUSTLE AND BUSTLE, TURN AWAY FROM ALL THAT WOULD KEEP US FROM HEARING THE VOICE OF THE LORD, AND TURN BACK TO HIM.

THE PAST POINTS US TO THE FUTURE; THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR, HAS COME TO US IN JESUS, AND IS COMING TO US IN THE FULNESS OF HIS GLORY. THE LONG SILENCE HAS BEEN BROKEN BY THE LOVING CALL OF OUR GOD, AND, IN THE QUIET TIME OF THIS ADVENT, LET US LISTEN TO HIS CALL BOURNE BY HIS SPIRIT OVER THE CENTURIES AND INTO OUR HEARTS THIS DAY; “TURN BACK TO ME.” THE PAST SHOWS US THE WAY TO OUR FUTURE; AND HIS NAME IS YESHUA, YAHWEH SAVES. AMEN

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