Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Second Sunday of Advent

This week's scriptures are Psalm 72: 1-7 and Matthew 3: 1-12

Peace and Justice are important themes for the Gospel writers. They are also important themes for the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures that Matthew would be familiar with as he tried to demonstate that in Jesus the Kingdom of God had come-the Messiah had arrived. A lot of the writing of the O.T. prophets was, in part, their telling Israel that they did not have Peace because they had not pursued Justice.....meaning that their ignoring the needs of the poor and their amassing wealth at the expense of the needy had earned God's anger.

John the Baptist focused on these same issues in his preaching. Mark and Luke, along with Matthew paint an impressive picture of this wilderness prophet whose preaching clearly "took no prisoners." He drew a crowd and he knew how to "whoop" (as they used to say). And when asked what they needed to do, he answered them with the commandments of justice (see Lk. 3: 13-14).

And it's exactly this impressiveness that Matthew is attempting to deal with (at least in part) here, and also later in the description of Jesus' baptism. Because there were those who wondered whether or not John the Baptist was, in fact, the Christ-the promised Messiah.

I sometimes think that the reason many of them asked this question had to do with John's forcefulness, his willingness to stand apart and point a finger at those who were doing wrong. The idea of a God of Wrath fit well into John's preaching. And Jesus....well, Jesus .... Jesus was different. In Jesus we have the perfect blending of the way of life pointed to in Micah 6:8 "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." Love mercy, that was the difference. I think that made people wonder....Jesus loved mercy. So they wondered if he was really tough enough to be the messiah.

Lots of folks still ask the same question . Oh, they say it in different ways, but it's the same question none the less....."I guess this 'love your enemies stuff is okay for the neighbor who's dog barks too loud; but what about the terrorist, and the rapist, and the murderer? What about the Enron executive and the people who trade in human beings? There's got to be a different scale for them, doesn't there?" Regardless of where we fall on the theological or political spectrum, all of us have somebody that we're not sure should be allowed under the 'mercy umbrella.'

Is Jesus tough enough to really be the Messiah? Matthew was trying to answer that question, in part for his world. Is Jesus tough enough to deal with our world? That's the question that each of us has to answer for answer and then follow.

See you Sunday.

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