Sunday 12/04/22 - Sidney UMC
Sermon Title: “Prepare The Way Of The Lord!” (“The Reclaiming Hope” Series: Part 2 of 5)
Old Testament Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10
New Testament Scripture: Romans 15:4-13
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 3:1-12
Last Sunday I started a sermon series for Advent called “The Reclaiming Hope” series. What I had said last week was that after the long and weary pandemic, we are back to a normal level of functioning. We have all lost a lot and have sacrificed a lot during the pandemic, but we are now back to a “new normal.” We are here in worship this morning without excessive amounts of restrictions, and we hope and pray that this pandemic is behind us. While have lost and sacrificed a lot, but I am challenging us all to seek new hope in Christ and in each other during this Advent and soon to be Christmas season.
Since we had a reading from the gospel of Matthew 24:36-44 last Sunday, where Jesus spoke prophetically of his second coming, last Sunday my sermon once again was called, “The one who is, and is to come”. In this season of Advent, we are called to prepare for the memory of the birth of Christ, and to anticipate his second coming to the earth.
With this said, there is a segment of our culture that very much believes in “pulling yourself up from your own bootstraps.” Or another term that I have heard is a “self-made man,” or a “self-made woman.” The idea that you and you alone prepare your path, then walk your path of success. In this way of thinking, you and you alone were responsible for your success and no one else.
It certainly is a nice and rather “macho” theory, that we are “self-made,” or that we “pulled ourselves up from our own bootstraps,” but this is never entirely true. This is not to take away from the hard work and efforts of people that have achieved great worldly success, but we all had help along the way. For example, I am guessing that we did not feed and change ourselves as infants. I am guessing that we had help with school clothes, food, etc., as kids. Many of us can also cite family, friends, a spouse, etc. that helped us to get where we are now. So, while some say that they were “self-made” or that they “pulled themselves up from their own bootstraps,” nobody can fully do this.
I say all of this on this Second Sunday of Advent, as Jesus had a lot of groundwork laid for him. Not only by his parents Mary and Joseph, and not only by the many prophets in the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible that prophesied his coming, but also this morning, from his cousin John the Baptist. Imagine if the Jews of Jesus’ time knew nothing of the prophecy of the messiah, or “Mashiach” in the Hebrew pronunciation. Not all Jews believed in the prophecy of the messiah or “Mashiach,” but certainly enough knew of the prophecy. As great prophets of old from the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah prophesied of this coming messiah, or “Mashiach,” the Jewish people had knowledge of this. Now Jesus of course was complete and was fully God and was fully human on earth, and he did not need anyone to prepare for his arrival. It certainly did not hurt though.
Further, in living under Roman occupation during the time of Jesus, and the oppression of Rome, many Jews wanted a messiah or “Mashiach” now more than ever. So, Jesus had groundwork laid for centuries before him with the great prophets of old predicting his coming, and this morning Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist is specifically preparing the way for Jesus. This is why my sermon for this morning is called “Prepare The Way Of The Lord.” If Jesus started preaching, teaching, healing, loving, and forgiving, and there was little to no knowledge of the messiah or “Mashiach,” one would tend to think that it would have taken longer for the people to learn and to understand who Jesus was claiming to be.
This morning then, on this Second Sunday of Advent, we are focusing on John the Baptist, and the fact he “Prepared The Way Of The Lord.” A lot was done to prepare the world for Jesus. As a lot was done for us all, for us to get to where we are today.
As I said, many of the prophets of old from the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible prophesied about the coming of the messiah or “Mashiach.” Our reading from Isaiah 11:1-10 for this morning is another example of such a prophecy. Starting in Isaiah 11:1-10 for this morning, it says starting in 11:1, once again:
11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 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. 3 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, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge for the poor and decide with equity for the oppressed 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. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist and faithfulness the belt around his loins (Isa. 11:1-5, NRSV).
Quite a prophecy of the coming messiah or “Mashiach.” He will be a descendant of Jesse, who was the father of King David. God’s spirit shall rest on him, as the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus like a dove at his baptism in the Jordan River. He will rule righteously, judge fairly, and care for the most vulnerable among us. This prophecy written hundreds of years before Christ, predicting the coming messiah or “Mashiach.”
Further when this savior returns in glory what will the earth then look like? Isaiah tells us continuing on starting in 11:6, saying once again:
6 The wolf
shall live with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together, and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 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. 10 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 (Isa. 11:6-10, NRSV).
Quite a prophecy, quite a prediction that the Prophet Isaiah is making about this messiah or “Mashiach” that is coming. Isaiah, like many other prophets of old, prophetically predicted the messiah and what his life would like. Isaiah, and many others “Prepared The Way Of The Lord.”
We have a little bit of a different situation when it come to our Romans 15:4-13 reading for this morning, however. The Apostle Paul, who was formerly Saul of Tarsus, not only did not “Prepare The Way Of The Lord,” but Saul of Tarsus persecuted and tried to destroy the Christian movement. Then Saul of Tarsus encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and became the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul did not “Prepare The Way Of The Lord,” but he did preach the gospel of Christ and expand the church of Jesus Christ to the gentiles, or non-Jews. Isaiah and John, the Baptist “Prepared The Way Of The Lord,” but the Apostle Paul spread the good news of Christ and planted churches. In this Romans reading from the Apostle Paul for this morning, Paul quotes part of our Isaiah 11:1-10 reading that have for this morning. While Paul believed that the messiah or “Mashiach” would come one day, he was not convinced at first that this messiah was Jesus.
The Apostle Paul in this scripture for this morning, once again tells the Romans that scriptures are meant to offer us hope. The Apostle Paul tells us to live in harmony with one another, and to be united in God through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul then tells us to be welcoming to one another, and that Christ has fulfilled the promises of the ancestors. One such ancestor is the Prophet Isaiah, who the Apostle Paul quotes in Romans 15:9-12
“Therefore I will confess you among the gentiles and sing praises to your name”; 10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O gentiles, with his people”; 11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the gentiles; in him the gentiles shall hope” (Rom. 15:9-12, NRSV).
Isaiah “Prepared The Way Of The Lord,” and the Apostle Paul who did not “Prepare The Way Of The Lord,” reminds all of us this morning what people like Isaiah did. God called the Apostle Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles or non-jews, but he knows that the prophets of old predicted that the messiah or “Mashiach.”
This leads me to our gospel of Matthew 3:1-12 lesson for this morning, where John the Baptist will continue to “Prepare The Way Of The Lord.” John the Baptist was the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, and if you remember in the gospel, John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, when Mary, pregnant with Jesus came near her. So how did John the Baptist prepare the way for Jesus? Let us look once again starting in Matthew 3:1, where it says:
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 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’ ” (Matt. 3:1-3, NRSV).
There is certainly a lot of references to the Prophet Isaiah this morning, and the connection to the messiah, to Jesus. Isaiah, even prophesized about John the Baptist the one who was called to “Prepare The Way Of The Lord.” We even have a hymn in our United Methodist Hymnal called, you guess it, “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” number 207. This really pushes back on the idea of being “self-made” or “pulling yourself up from your own bootstraps.” Now Jesus was fully God and fully human on earth, so he was and is God. Nothing had to be done to prepare the way for Jesus, and yet much was done to prepare the hearts and minds people for centuries.
A little bit about John the Baptist. He probably will not be on the cover of GQ Magazine anytime soon, nor was he probably a very eligible bachelor. Why? Well let us pick up in Matthew 3:4 where it says:
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance, 9 and 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 (Matt. 3:4-9, NRSV).
So, John the Baptist lives in the wilderness, eats bugs and honey, and wears camel’s hair and a leather belt. He is calling people to repentance and baptizing them in the Jordan River. John the Baptist is letting people know that the savior is soon to be among them. John the Baptist is “Preparing the Way of the Lord,”
To emphasize that John the Baptist is “Preparing the Way of the Lord,” John the Baptist concludes our gospel reading for this morning from Matthew 3:11-13, saying once again:
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I, and I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 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” (Matt. 3:11-13, NRSV).
Since John, the Baptist was baptizing people by immersion or dunking them under the water of the Jordan River, an entire branch of Christianity has emerged out of this. Since Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by immersion, in the Baptist tradition, all baptisms must be done by immersion or dunking them under the water. First called “Anabaptists” meaning “Re-Baptizers,” as some adults after getting baptized as an infant, then got rebaptized by immersion as an adult. This branch of Christianity is directly connected then to the ministry of John the Baptist, which in part is why Baptists are called Baptists.
John the Baptist also says in our gospel lesson that he baptizes with water, but that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. As result of this, some Christian Churches, like the Salvation Army have no water baptism. Instead, they believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
On this our Second Sunday of Advent may we prepare our hearts, our minds, and our souls, for the memory of the coming birth of Jesus Christ, and may we anticipate Christ’s return. May we all “Prepare the Way of the Lord.” Amen.