Last week on the First Sunday of Advent we were challenged by the thought that we have a choice in living the way it always used to be compared to what it might be in the future. Going up to the top of the mountain to stay far away from the change that is out there; or running headlong into a world we know nothing about, except that we are told, in order to go there, we must be prepared.
In reality, there is Advent joy in places like the past ,present and future. The question we find ourselves asking is how hard do I want to work to get there.
Jesus and Isaiah tell us to be prepared and that doesn’t always mean we are ready. This weekend we are called to be ready… the time for preparation is done. It is time to move on.
As a pilgrim people we hear Isaiah say “Don’t set out on the path alone. There is one who will be able to guide you.” Whenever we start out to accomplish something, we usually have some preparation. On this adventure we have a guide, who will walk the pilgrim way with us.
Nothing fancy, just a person like us. Sometimes, in Isaiah a person of no consequence turns out to be a most amazing character. From what is left over of a crumbling, faith-weary nation… there is at least one person willing to step forward to start down the road to change. That person is nothing but a “stump” like those we see all over our Moscow. When trees get old and tired and diseased, we hear the roar of that orange truck and machine eating up the branches of the tree just cut down.
Sure enough, in the spring we from that same tree, will see a shoot coming from the stump. If we let it grow it will be hard to cut down with the clippers. It is rising out of the stump to show… “I am not dead… you can’t stop me now.” It doesn’t look like a 100 year old tree… it has changed, it is something new.
Maybe it is no coincidence that John lived in the past and pointed to Jesus just like that shoot from the days of Isaiah. We need someone to say… It is okay for you to stay where you are, but with a little water, a baptism for change, you too can grow into a shoot that wants to live more than stay where you are.
And that is the break between the old and the new. Jesus breaks the concept of time. John says “even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” If I were those people, I would start looking for water in baptism instead of the fires of hell.
Something else came to replace the choice between water and fire, baptism or condemnation. Preparation was no longer an option. We need to be ready for a break… from the kingdoms here on earth to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The differences are startling: John lamented, Jesus rejoiced. John sang a funeral hymn, Jesus said alleluia verse. John refused to eat bread, just wild honey and locusts. Jesus broke his bread, his Body. John refused to drink wine. Jesus changed all the water to wine and gave us his Blood. John dressed in camel’s hair. The soldiers gambled for Jesus’ seamless garment. John shouted a warning. Jesus quietly invited.
They were so different they began to wonder about each other: John sent his disciples to see if Jesus might be the one. Jesus’ disciples went to John and were told by him: “I am not he. He must increase in his ministry. It is now time for me to decrease in mine.”
The great break had happened. No longer able to look back to the old tree and the small shoot, the followers of Jesus did not realize they would soon be looking at the new wood, the cross, with a new shoot, hung upon it. Something new had started—the Kingdom of God.
If we had not yet made the choice to go forward on our pilgrimage – our choice today, been made for us. The stories of old, handed on to us, no longer call us to be prepared. We are now ready. For with the old gone and the new ahead we are at last ready to understand John’s message, which leads to Jesus:
The wilderness is changing, the wasteland is blooming, and the glory of God is on the way.