The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Based on Matthew, Chapter 3, verses 1-13  John the Baptist Preaches

Opening Prayer:  Holy, gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we carry as we reflect together on your word for us, may all of it be acceptable in your sight.  Amen.

As promised last week and following the readings from the scripture as recommended by the World Council of Churches, we have another apocalyptic or end times reading from Matthew’s gospel this morning. 

Similarly to last week, again this morning we are gifted and challenged with the task of sitting with the discomfort these readings evoke in us, especially during the season of Advent. 

It is a challenge to hear the discordant voice of one crying in the wilderness at Advent.  Advent, the time of the year when we focus waiting and watching for the birth of Jesus, also know as the coming of the Light of the World, Love Incarnate, and the Prince of Peace at Christmas isn’t the time when we particularly want to hear words of prophecy.  But it is what it is,  yes?

This morning though there isn’t time to share conversation with you about how you heard the reading,  I do look forward to chatting with you over coffee about the gift and the challenge you found in these words from Matthew’s gospel.

The gift and the challenge I found in this morning’s reading was this: 

There is a voice crying out in the wilderness and we, like our faith ancestors, need to pay it heed.

For me, that plaintiff voice calling in the wilderness longs for us to be about more than bricks and mortar and church as we have always known it for lo these last 100 years as a denomination.

For me, that plaintiff voice calling in the wilderness, longs for us to take off the blindfolds that keep us tied to former habits and ways of being church so as to make space for the new thing that is wanting to be born in our midst.

To put it in the context of this morning’s reading from Matthew, we, like those who have gone before, need to acknowledge and confess the personal and corporate sin that keeps us at arms length from God and from one another. 

In just such ways as these, we prepare our hearts for fruitful living in own community and to communities in the wider world.

Here in this morning’s reading we hear Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist proclaiming loudly and clearly the need to pay heed to clear endings that will give way to new beginnings. 

I wonder, could there be any clearer ending than his description of the Holy One as coming with a ‘winnowing fork to separate the wheat from the chaff?’

But the verse that captured my attention this morning  was when he told all those gathered around him on the edges of the river Jordan:

“Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near”.

At a first listen, if you are like me, maybe you found yourself shuddering inwardly at the often misunderstood word ‘repent’. 

That is, until we remember that the word ‘repent’ translated from the Greek ‘metanoia’ simply means ‘to turn away from’.

Given that reminder, I feel a wave of relief at being able to make sense of what John the Baptist’s is saying in the reading and as people come to him to be baptised. 

To me, he is simply saying: ‘Turn away from the safe and the familiar; the tried and the true; turn away from and be mindful of all that keeps you separate from God and each other.’ 

For me, that is the good news that John the Baptist proclaims for all who have ears to hear and hearts to listen. 

‘Turn away from and be mindful of all that separates us from God and from one another’ is another way of describing what we are about as we confess our sins as humans. 

But just what is the sin to which all humanity needs to confess and how much will that cost?