Advent 2: Bear Fruit


Advent 2 – Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love.

The second Sunday of Advent, over time, has been set aside to remember and reflect on The Prophets of the Old Testament. The focus on The Prophets gives us the opportunity to reflect on the way the Jesus’ birth was foretold in the centuries before it actually happened.

I love the season of Advent – I grew up in an evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and we were always big on Advent – wreaths at home and at church, calendars (my preference has always been for the chocolate ones)!

I also know that for myself marking Advent goes some way in keeping my cynicism towards the commercialization of Christmas low. It is very easy to complain about the stuff in the shops too early or how the Christian message gets lost today. I would argue that to some extent that Christians have let it go as has the church. If we do not prepare ourselves and examine again what it all means – then how can we possibly be the Prophets of today who can share the Good News of this season with others?

Isaiah speaks of a king who is to come and what to look out for. Paul in Romans reminds the church in Rome to remember ‘whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction’ so that the church would be one voice. John the Baptist was being prepared in the wilderness to be the voice that cries out.

The people of Israel that Isaiah is speaking to have been through the mill. The first 39 chapters of the book speak mainly of punishment and the exile of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon. Chapters 40-66 begin to speak of things turning around with messages of comfort and the end of punishment for Jerusalem. Within these two main sections there are further identifiable sections. Ch 1-12 (where we are this morning) is characterized by prophecies about Judah and Jerusalem alternating between judgement and salvation.

In both Isaiah and Romans there is mention of the ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’. This is another way of speaking about a king in the line of David – along with Isaiah 9:2-7. That king is who we believe to be Jesus.

The line of David had been devastated during the exile and many people had no hope of restoration. Isaiah is prophesying that now a new shoot will spring out of it, in the form of a Davidic king who will bring a new age of righteousness and justice for Judah. Hope is on the horizon! Isaiah’s prophesy is telling the people of Israel what kind of person to look out for and what kind of changes to see in the world. The King is coming!

The wilderness, biblically speaking, is often a place of transformation and preparation – Jesus is taken for 40 days into the wilderness at the start of his ministry, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the promised land. The wilderness is also a place of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. Christians can often speak of having those times in the wilderness when God feels distant, it can be a time of great doubt and despair. All you can do is wait and watch for God as though your life depends on it. This doesn’t sit comfortably in the season of Christmas parties and carol singing.

John the Baptist bursts onto the scene in the opening verses/chapters of all four Gospels from the wilderness. John brings the message of hope for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. John also wants us to prepare spiritually for this coming. There are two things, according to John that we need to do.

Firstly, we need to clear a path for the Lord and secondly that path is to be straight. The original Greek word for paths here means ‘a beaten pathway’; a well-worn path, a path that has seen some use, it’s been established, walked on.

In a personal way God wants us to prepare a path to him. If you were to picture what your path to God looks like – what do you see? Is it well worn? Lightly tread?

Is our path to God straight? I know that mine sometimes is more of a meandering path – taking the long way! I vividly a sermon where a rather charismatic preacher suggested we should ‘go to the throne before we go to the phone.’ Have we made a path for Him to come and do a major and powerful work in our lives? I trust that God wants us to make a beaten pathway to Him. Go to Him over and over again – in the first instance!

We also need to clear that path of debris – this can be anything that standing in the way of God being able to work in our lives fully. There are ways that we can make a beaten path. I will suggest two that I came across from a friend’s blog reflection on preparing spiritually for Christmas.

Firstly, meditate of the fact that we need a Saviour. We all need Jesus.

Ali in her blog writes: ‘My friend recently confessed that growing up in a Christian home, she has never really understood the depth of her need for a Saviour.

Another friend, after battling addiction for years, knows and relies daily on her desperate need for a Saviour, the very giver of her sanity, health and life. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between.’

I know that I need to deepen my awareness of God in areas of my life. It is embarrassing how short my memory can be sometimes.

Secondly, engage in sober self-examination. John’s first words when he appeared from the wilderness ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ It is also no coincidence that in Matthew’s Gospel, the first line of Jesus’ first sermon is ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (4:17).

John has a serious go at the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him for baptism. ‘Bear fruit worthy of repentance’ he tells them. Maybe this is why John the Baptist never appears on any Christmas cards or Advent calendars?

My friend Ali again in her blog, ‘This does not mean checking how many moles are on your back or how many wrinkles have appeared around your eyes (though there is a time and place for this type of self-examination).

Rather, this is a deep internal examination of how we are doing spiritually. The Christian writer John Piper says, ‘Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter’. There should be time for honest self-reflection, where we invite the Holy Spirit in to show us where we need His help and healing the most.’

John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is a way of getting our paths clear and straight. I think that many of us would assign this kind of reflection to Lent and not Advent. Yet it is through John we have a gateway to the swaddled baby, fleecy lambs, singing angels and wisemen that we hold so dear at this time of year.

Confession and repentance bring a cleansing and a change of mind and heart can help us turn back to God. It can clear and straighten the path like nothing else can. It is not easy and may not seem to fit in the season of mulled wine and mince pies. They don’t taste as good as a clean heart and mind feel though. Advent and Christmas are full of wonderful activities – but they can also distract us from what is more important. Again, why I choose to mark Advent and it is hard work some days.

Repentance needs to be taken seriously. It means stopping and turning around. Is there anything you need to stop doing? We can of course ask for forgiveness for the things we do wrong – but if we don’t get serious about stopping sin – we cheapen forgiveness, it becomes worthless and meaningless. This is what John means in his demand that the Pharisees and Sadducees to ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance.’

It is a very dangerous mindset to enter into – thinking that we have license to do what we want because we can be forgiven. God will not be mocked. He also knows the desires out of hearts, He searches us out and knows what our true motivations are.

Stopping something is never easy – especially if it has become an ingrained pattern of behaviour or habit. Stopping means changing behaviour, becoming vulnerable and finding new ways of living and being. It is hard but not impossible. We have the God for whom nothing is impossible. He will help and provide.

Paul in the letter to the Romans talks about the scriptures written for our instruction (not entertainment) so that we might have hope. The God of steadfastness and encouragement is with us. Steadfast is a great and often forgotten word – it means immovable, unchangeable, firmly fixed in place. Not much in the world around us feel steadfast in these days. Thank God that we have a God who is steadfast!

In this Advent season my prayer is that you will know the hope of Jesus the Messiah as we celebrate his birth and await his return. I also pray that amidst the turkey and tinsel you find time to deepen your need for the Saviour who loves and cares for you. May you also know his love and forgiveness this season too. As uncomfortable as it might be, some serious self-examination might be in order to. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement be with you. 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.