Press the play button to listen to the recording or click on the download link to download a .mp3 file to your computer.

Matthew 3:1-12Isaiah 11: 1-10

I must admit I wince a little when I come across John the Baptist in Advent - looking wild in his camel hair outfit with his honey and locust diet, proclaiming his ‘in your face’ message of judgement and repentance. Partly, it is his preaching style – I try not to refer to my congregations as ‘a brood of vipers’ as I find it is not always the most helpful thing for church growth! And if I’m honest, at a time when everyone is beginning to think about wrapping up lovely presents and preparing to sing carols joyfully around the Christmas tree, I’m desperately wanting to find a message a little more palatable, more comfortable, more sanitised to preach on.

And yet, people flocked to hear John’s message – many walking for several days we are told out into the barren wilderness to hear him deliver his fire and brimstone sermon. And that is because what he said was so important. What he said was actually such news of hope, of transformation. As he prepared the way for the arrival of the long awaited Messiah, his call to the people was ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.’ For he was announcing that something was about to happen…the long wait was nearly over… that God was about to do something big and he didn’t want people to be facing the wrong way when it happened. He wanted them to be ready. He wanted them to be prepared. He wanted them to get right with God, and join in with what God was doing.

For John was underlining that repentance was so much more than what so many of us take it to be now – a simple ‘sorry’ - or perhaps at best a ‘sorry and I’ll try not to do it again.’ For he was imploring people to live out the true meaning of the word – to have a complete change of mind – to make a 180 degree turn. He was calling them to acknowledge that they had been travelling in the opposite direction from where God had been pointing them, and make that choice to return to God and be in step with him once again and join in with this new kingdom – this new way of being – which was about to be announced by the long awaited Messiah.

That is what John the Baptist was calling for 2000 years ago and it is a call that we are invited to hear afresh this Advent. As we start a new church year, we are reminded that Advent is not just about preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus once again at Christmas, but it is a call to wholeheartedly return to God again, to allow him to truly align us again with his ways… his values…his priorities, so that we can fully live as his ‘kingdom people.’

The Isaiah passage chosen for this Sunday paints an extraordinary picture of the kingdom in all its fullness. These verses from Isaiah 11 describe a world where the leopard lies down with the goat, and the infant plays fearlessly and peacefully near the cobra’s den. It’s a picture of transformation and hope - of creation fully restored. It’s a picture of what things one day will be because of Jesus’ first coming. But now, this Advent as we wait again for his second coming, we wait in a world which is so far from that utopia.We wait in the mess, in the brokenness of our communities and divisions of our nation, where injustice and fear and hopelessness are the reality for so many. But as Christians, as God’s ‘kingdom people’ we do not wait passively. We are called to wait actively and attentively, as ones who have been invited to join in with God in His kingdom vision of transformation and restoration. We are called to wait and pray for God to continue to break into the darkness of people’s lives, and be open to his call to use us as his agents in doing that. And that journey begins with repentance - with us, who have so often drifted from his path and turned to face the opposite direction, hearing afresh his call to come back, to come home, and return fully to him.

So what might it mean for each one of us this Advent? What one change might God be calling you to implement?

For some it might mean a change in direction in some aspect of our lives – an unhealthy relationship being put right, a decision to make, a habit to break or a new one to form.

For some it might begin with committing to find a few minutes each day to come to God in prayer and scripture, to open ourselves to his transforming power afresh.

For some it might mean choosing the path of self-sacrifice so that we can respond to God’s call to join in with him in bringing in the kingdom more fully with the poor and the vulnerable, the weak and the lonely in our communities.

What change is God calling you to make? And will you stop this Advent to hear his call afresh to ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Questions:

  1. What does repentance mean to you? What difference does it make if we see it as a ‘complete change of direction for us to return to God’?
  2. What one ‘change of direction’ might God be asking you to do this Advent?
  3. Where might you pray for God’s kingdom to come more fully in your community this Advent? Are there any places where God is calling you to be part of that transformation?