Advent 2A
Matthew 3:1-12

A Liturgy is also available


Last week, when the season of Advent commenced in our Lectionary readings,
(N) indicated we were starting with a problem.
           The set readings had little or nothing to do with Advent
           or the coming season called Christmas.

So having ‘set the ball rolling’ last week, I wondered if the same
could be said for this week’s readings!

Immediately I need to confirm that traditionally christians have
understood today’s stories from Isaiah and Matthew, as prophecies of Jesus.
            But... is this really the case?

Well process theologian John Cobb, says: ‘Not really’.
Listen as I share with you what Cobb suggests:
“Jesus did not fulfil the prophecies of Isaiah in the way Isaiah expected....  [F]or Isaiah the main point was about kingly succession...  
Whatever Jesus’ ancestry was, he was not what Isaiah expected.  He did not engage in royal judgement, administering justice to the poor.  [Neither] did he kill the wicked.” 
(John Cobb, P&F Web site, 2007)

Does this mean Christians have been wrong
in seeing the Isaiah passage as an anticipation of Jesus?

John Cobb continues:
“In part, of course, they have erred.  But it is not wrong to view Jesus as a partial fulfilment of the hopes that Isaiah expressed.” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2007)

So the best, or maybe the more honest things we can do or say, is:
          • affirm we can see in Jesus some of what Isaiah hoped for, and
          • assert that Jesus was also different from what Isaiah considered ideal.


So here we are now.... into the Second Sunday in Advent.

And Matthew, jumping 30 years or so in time in a matter
of only a couple of short story chapters,
introduces John the Baptiser, the so-called final prophet of Jesus’ coming,
and places him centre stage for a moment.

In John the Baptiser then, what have we got?
Let me offer these very brief comments.

In John’s preaching
the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of g-o-d
was a judgement to inspire fear in the disobedient - the insider.

In Jesus’ preaching
the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of g-o-d
was an invitation to inspire hope in the ‘common ones’ - the outsider.

Two different visions by which to reimagine a nation.
          A judgement to inspire fear.
          An invitation to inspire hope.

Both visions have been used in the past (and not-so past), by christians.
Only one, I reckon... the one which does not bombard people
with issues of personal morality and sanctions called ‘sin’,
has the capacity to re-imagine new possibilities for the world.


Let me tell a parallel story.
Ukraine was in the middle of an election.
Indeed, trouble was out on the streets, as the result was being disputed.

The regular evening TV news was on air,
coming from the government controlled TV station.
          A presenter was reading the script.
          Another was ‘signing’ so the deaf could also ‘hear’ the news.

But the news was what those in power wanted to say,
rather than it being an account of what was actually happening.
           No mention of the protests or challenges
           to the validity of the voting system, was being mentioned.

In a moment of madness, some say, the signer stopped translating the set script.
And instead, started to give her account of all the other events
            that were also happening.

She said she knew she would be sacked because of her actions,
but felt she could no longer put up with the government’s lies and propaganda.

Immediately following the broadcast all the members of the news room came to her,
          not only to support her actions,
          but also to join the struggle against the government and it’s lies.

So began a new and different story.

Now why tell this story?  A story I would call an ‘advent’ story?
Because it sought to re-imagine new possibilities for their country.
          And it began when the deaf - the outsiders - 
          were given the opportunity and the respect to ‘overhear’ what was going on!

Likewise today, I would suggest, Matthew
is inviting his small Jewish community to ‘overhear’ some things,
through the ‘signage’ called John the Baptiser.

Developing along side of and often in conflict with developing Jewish communities,
it can’t have been easy for this small community.
All groups were trying to form or reshape
their own identities and allegiances among the people.

Remembering that Matthew is a storyteller,
he lets the community ‘overhear’ John talking,
hoping they might see and hear themselves
in these conversations.

In the hearing, they (and we) might sense something new and different is afoot.
 As one of Shirley Erena Murray's hymns suggest:
         "Now the star of Christmas

         shines into our day, 

         points a new direction:
         change is on the way -

         there's another landscape

         to be travelled through,

         there's a new-born spirit
         broadening our view" 
(Shirley Erena Murray/hos)


We still have a problem with the Advent Lectionary, especially
the purpose or theology behind the shaping of it.
And that underlying purpose is based on presenting a mythical
‘Christ of faith’ – often called the “easter barrier” –
which has overpowered the ‘historical Jesus’.

And that’s a shame.  A crying shame.
Because what we are often left with is a mere shell called the g-o-d/man Jesus.

Personally I support those scholars who call for a demotion of Jesus.
Because a fully-fleshed demoted Jesus
“becomes available as the real founder of the Christian movement… no longer… its mythical icon, embedded in the myth of the descending/ascending, dying/rising lord of the pagan mystery cults, but one of substance with us all.” 
(Funk 1996:306)

So this Advent journey I invite you to go beyond the Lectionary parameters
and consider a couple of things…

(i) Consider the need for a fresh awareness of your creative capacity.
For inside each one of us
is a marvellous creature with multicoloured wings.

(ii) Consider the option of becoming a person infected or inspired by hope.
 For it is ‘creativity g-o-d' who acts in us.
 And g-o-d in other people, who receive our actions.

Finally, (iii) consider the invitation to re-tune your senses
to a watchful presentness of the sacred
         in the ordinary
         in the every day
         in the outsider
         in the new.

May you enjoy and be blessed by your Advent journey this year.

Funk, R. W. Honest to Jesus. Jesus for a New Millennium. New York. HaprerCollins, 1996.
(HoS) Hope is Our Song. New hymns and songs from Aotearoa New Zealand. Palmerston North. New Zealand Hymnbook Trust, 2009.