St. Matthew 3:1-12; Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13
Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
This morning we have arrived at the second week of Advent. The focus of the week is Love. We are going to look at this in the light of the Coming of Christ and what it means for us. In our Gospel portion we learn that it demands repentance and preparation of the way.
John the Baptist called the people of his day to repentance because the kingdom of heaven was at hand or near. Christ is about to come to establish his kingdom. What is his kingdom? His kingdom is the justification by faith and the sanctification of the Spirit. It is the first and second comings of Christ, and it is also the virtuous life. When we live here on earth as if we lived in heaven, by not living according to the passions, then we truly possess the Kingdom of heaven.
The mission of John the Baptist was to prepare the souls and hearts of those who would believe in Christ. What did he tell them that we might learn how to prepare our own souls and hearts for Christ? The Fathers tell us that prepare the way and bear the fruits of repentance are synonymous. One is stated poetically and the other practically. God is desiring to live among his people so preparation must be made.
John prepared the ways of mercy and truth, faith and justice for the people of his day. How do we prepare and have the kingdom near us? We must prepare these ways and paths in our hearts, senses and souls. St. Chromatius tells us,
Pave within you the way of chastity, the way of faith and the way of holiness. Build roads of justice. Remove every scandal of offence from your heart. For it is written: “Remove the stones from the road.” And then, indeed, through the thoughts of your heart and the very movements of your soul, Christ the king will enter along certain paths.1
Preparation for Christ takes work on our part. Are we willing to prepare a suitable place for him to live within our hearts? Are we willing to live in holiness and repentance?
Let us take a few moments to look at the clothes of John the Baptist. He wore the skin of a camel i.e. of an unclean animal. Christ, the Holy One of God, clothed himself with our humanity and our flesh. The clothing of John the Baptist points to the incarnation of Christ. Even by his dress, he was heralding the coming of Christ.
He had a leather belt around his waist. This reminds us that before the coming of Christ we were trapped in sins and various vices, but now they are restrained through the virtue that he has given us.
In the book of Acts chapter nineteen, there is a slight problem that arises in the church because of the baptism of John. John’s baptism did not give remission of sins. It was merely a baptism of repentance. It trained the people to be ready for the baptism of Christ where we are baptised into his death and resurrection.
We see a group of people, leaders of the Jews, who were known as the children of God being referred to as a brood of vipers, as snakes. Snakes bring to mind Satan who was the serpent from the beginning. How could this happen? Could it happen to us who are now children of God? They made themselves the children of the Devil by their own choices. John the Baptist was not making them a brood of vipers but merely pointing out that they were. We must choose to follow Christ each and every day and bring forth the fruits of repentance which is a godly life or we may find ourselves the children of the Devil just like the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
John anticipates their response of Abraham being their father. Scripture and the Fathers teach us that the true children of Abraham aren’t those who are his descendants according to the flesh, but rather those who imitate his faith. The children of Abraham aren’t an ethnicity, but rather a people of faith in God from every tribe nation and tongue.
John goes on and states from these stones children of Abraham can be raised up. The fathers tell us that this is speaking of the Gentiles, us, who would be added into the family of God. However, being called stones is no compliment. It is a reference to the hardness of our hearts and how great is God’s salvation to even turn hearts of stone into his children.
The people are called to repentance, just as we are every day and the axe of judgement is laid to the root of the tree. Judgement is imminent, but it is not a foregone conclusion. It is not yet in the hand of the one who will cut the tree down. If we live a life of repentance, the axe will be put away. However, if we refuse to repent then the axe will cut down the tree by the roots. God is giving us time to repent, but at the same time he is reminding us that Judgement will come upon the unrepentant.
It was the job of the prophets to call the people to repentance, hence John had a baptism of repentance. However, it is the power of Christ to save and redeem. We had been called for centuries to repent but now Christ has come, and salvation is available to all who will repent. Let us, therefore, look to our lives repent from where we have fallen and receive the salvation of Christ.
In our first Testament reading, we see that Christ’s coming was foretold. In fact, in verse one of this passage both the Virgin Mary and Christ are foretold. The Fathers tells us that the shoot that sprouts from the root of Jesse is the Virgin Mary and Christ is the Bud that will blossom. The Virgin Mary bore our Saviour becoming the Theotokos, the God-bearer for the incarnation of our Saviour.
In the next verse we see what appears to be seven spirits resting upon Him. However, it would be better understood as the Holy Spirit being a river and these seven spirits as channels. This river has its source in Christ. As we draw near to Christ, we receive these rivers of His Spirit, of His grace being poured into our lives.
Next, we see that Christ will slay the wicked and ruthless with his mouth. This St. Paul explains to us in his letter to the Thessalonians is the destruction of the Antichrist. As we have said before, our enemies are not other people, they are the forces of evil. This is who Christ will be slaying.
In the next few verses, we see the wonder of animals that are violent dwelling with those who are calm. While this is actually going to happen in the resurrection, there is a much more practical understanding of this for our daily lives. These predatory animals speak to us first of St. Paul and after that all persecutors of the church who are converted. They were once ravenously destroying the people of God and now they are docile dwelling with animals that are considered prey. It is not just that they dwell with these harmless animals, but they are also imitating their lifestyle they are eating what they are eating.
This also tells us that in the Church, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the humble, Kings and peasants are all dwelling together and are ruled by the children who are the apostles and apostolic men. The child leading them also of course refers to the Child that was given to us. The Holy Innocent one of God came to the earth as a child and has led us from our ragings of sin to be peaceful enough to be led by a child.
Our Psalm reading this morning speaks prophetically of Christ. He is our Lord and Saviour whose kingdom and throne will stand as long as the universe. His justice will remain forever until the moon is no more. He will come down like water on the fleece. This is again speaking of his virgin birth. He will descend to the earth in the most quiet manner, and we won’t even recognise his coming.
Finally, as we look at the Epistle, we see that his coming brings hope. We have hope through the encouragement of the Scriptures. Encouragement cannot be gotten from the Scriptures unless we believe and understand them. This is not for those who are outside the faith, but only for believers. We are called to love one another as we think of Christ. It is not that we are to merely love but we are to be in accord, we are to be in step with Christ as we love on another and glorify God in unity.
Our love is stronger than any man’s rejection. If any would seek to reject us, we cannot do the same to them. We must display even more love toward him, that he or she might be drawn back to us in the fellowship of the Spirit. He is a member of the body and we must do everything in our power to restore separated members back to the fold.
We had transgressed the law therefore Christ had come to fulfill it. This is not so that we can now keep it, as I have heard, and you may have as well. This is so the promises that had been made to the Fathers which had been suspended might come upon us through Christ. These promises are for both Jews and Gentiles, as John the Baptist hinted at in our Gospel passage and now St. Paul urges Jews and Gentiles towards unity with one another. He was teaching both of them humility, for the Jews had been called over and over throughout history and turned away many times whereas the Gentiles had been overlooked as it were for many years, but now they are both being united in the Church.
This morning then let us lay aside the passions and seek to acquire the virtues. We must acquire chastity, faith and holiness. We must make the effort to change our lives and God will give us the grace to do so. Let us rejoice that salvation has come to us Gentiles as well. We must purpose to follow Christ in everything, choosing the right over the wrong. We must seek to be imitators of God and live by faith and thus be children of God and children of Abraham. Let us restrain our sins and vices through the virtue that Christ has given us. That is, let us spend our energy doing and meditating on the good so that the passions have nothing to feed on.
Let us draw near to Christ and receive the grace of the Holy Spirit in these seven channels. If we find within ourselves a predatory spirit still remaining, let us look to older believers and Christ and imitate the gentleness that we see in them. Let us seek to be led by a child i.e. by Christ and the Apostolic teaching that has been handed down to us. Let us rejoice that as believers encouragement can come to us through the proper understanding of the Scriptures. We must love one another in the unity of Christ and seek to restore to fellowship all those who fall away from him. Finally, let us rejoice that the promises have come to us because Christ has fulfilled the law.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
~ Fr. Matthew
1 Thomas C. Oden and Manlio Simonetti, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament Ia (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), ?
Stothard, Thomas, 1755-1834 ; Skelton, William, 1763-1848. The Macklin Bible — John Preaching in the Wilderness, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54080 [retrieved March 26, 2020]. Original source: A gift to Vanderbilt University from John J. and Anne Czura..
Hicks, Edward, 1780-1849. Peaceable Kingdom, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=53085 [retrieved March 26, 2020]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Edward_Hicks_-_Peaceable_Kingdom.jpg.