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Last Sunday's Sermon -- John the Baptist

Old Testament

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

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.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

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.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

The Epistle

Romans 15:4-13

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

"Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name";

and again he says,

"Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people";

and again,

"Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him";

and again Isaiah says,

"The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope."

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel
Matthew 3:1-12

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.”

The Sermon

What does it mean in Isaiah, “A shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse.”? The prophet Isaiah is telling the Jewish people that they will be decimated, cut down if you will, by the Syrians because of their bad behavior. He uses the metaphor of a tree that has been cut off and looks dead. And yet the roots of the tree are still strong and from the stump of Jesse a twig will sprout. Jesse was the father of King David and Jesus was of the house of David. We Christians use this passage from the prophet Isaiah as a prediction that Jesus is the One, the Messiah, who will bring in this new age that the Jewish people have so longed for. The writers of the old testament used colorful language to impress on the people the importance of the coming of the messiah. They were not concerned with the accuracy of their words. They did not literally mean, as this reading suggests, that babies would put their hands in the dens of snakes. The message was that a great and good event was going to take place. Jesus was messiah. He was the great event. The advent of Jesus was what Isaiah was prophesying.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans writes that by fulfilling the scriptures, Jesus gives us hope and this hope is not for just the Jews but for gentiles as well. He says, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Life in the first century was hard for Jews and gentiles alike. There was disease, extreme poverty for many and really very little to look forward to upon death. Jesus and his message of hope resonated with so many in the first century.

I have been trying to put together a fitting description of John the Baptist. I don't mean the physical description but one that reaches to the heart of who he was. One word keeps popping up in my head, fearless. John knew his mission and he was so focused on it that he never ever varied. The man was rough around the edges and he pretty much called it as he saw it.

John even had the nerve to stand up to the pharisees and Sadducees and call them a brood of vipers. Some might say it was a bad idea to get on the wrong side of these people.

We know the message that John the Baptist had for the pharisees and Sadducees, but how does that translate for us today? What is John's message for us? Advent is a time for reflection and a time for penance. None us are perfect and we will never be perfect. What we can be is imperfect Christians who strive to be followers of Christ and put into practice our faith. This new kingdom can start with each of us. Your heart and mind can be an instrument of the love and peace we all seek.


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