December 6, 2010
Welcome to Monday. Does it seem as if it’s here awfully soon this week? It does to me. We had a weekend of art this weekend, going to San Francisco to see the Musee d’Orsay exhibit of the Post-Impressionists at the DeYoung museum on Friday, with a stop Saturday at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek for an exhibition of New Deal Art. Sunday after church I went to the Davis Art Center’s Holiday art Sale, and Monday will work at the Sac City College Holiday Art Sale. Whew! Lots and lots of art, some incredible and some not so much. Days full of art.
Suffice to say, nothing much got done around the house for three days as art sucked up every minute. I have something to say about that, but not until after today’s scripture, which features John the Baptist’s testimony. You are invited to center, light a candle, perhaps, and breathe deeply.
Prayer: “God, it is with no small amount of anticipation and yet some anxiety that we hear words that challenge us. Help us to hear the prophet, John, with our very hearts. Amen.”
Matthew 3:1-12 (New International Version, ©2010)
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. 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, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
I wonder if any of us has been called a “brood of vipers” lately, like the Pharisees and Sadducees? I don’t think prophets run around in camel hair and animal skins calling the educated professional class vipers much these days. I’m willing to overlook the insult, however, because the one thing in this scripture that really hits home with me this year is the order to repent.
In the sermon at church Sunday morning, our pastor preached about the need for worship to be passionate, and he mentioned that we will worship something (sometimes anything) for we were made to worship, even if that something is not God. Something clicked with me around this. It struck me that in some ways we worship our very busyness during this season! No, no way! Aren’t we trying to unload some of the busyness and don’t we want a more reflective, contemplative Christmastime?
Well, I don’t think we really do. At least, not on some levels. When we fill up all the days and hours we are at least partially claiming the time all to our own pursuits and away from communing with worshiping God, from abiding in the spirit of the season. It’s as if we are worshiping ourselves because it’s more important that we feel wanted, needed, and important to others.
You might say, that sounds awful! I don’t book myself solid because I want to seem important. I don’t run myself ragged because I need so much approval from others! There are just so many things I am obligated to do! Christmas won’t happen around here if I don’t work my fingers to the bone to make it so!
Well, here’s where I think John’s order to repent comes in. Repent does not only mean to ask forgiveness for a transgression, although it is a part of it. It means primarily to turn around a behavior! It means to change how you do or what you do. Tricky how this works-the Pharisees and Sadducees were those who minded the very letter of the religious laws in John’s day, and it took them literally hours to observe all the daily rituals. Something had to be cut out, and with them it was often charity and social justice issues. He wanted them to examine themselves for putting their self-satisfaction ahead of a genuine encounter with God and others. They didn’t need approval from one another, they needed it from God.
In repenting, I decided on releasing a couple of things this Christmas and I hope you will as well. Try replacing them with nothing, and invite God into the silence.
Prayer: “God of silence, I offer you the moments, hours, and days I have. I invite you to fill them with your presence always. Amen.”
Grace and Peace!
Further readings for today are:
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
For art fans: