Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25
The wait is almost over for the day in which salvation was born. The advent season is one of anticipation and reflection on the fulfillment of God’s promise. That promise was to be fulfilled in a child. How often do we really take time to think about that? God’s plan to save humanity began with a child. Of course if we were to be honest the plan began much earlier than that, the story of redemption began with the story of the fall, but through a child God began the work of salvation.
People have often debated what aspect of Jesus’ life is the most important. Some very worthy scholars will say that the cross of Calvary is the main point. Others have focused on Jesus’ ministry, but I think it begins with a child. To be honest it began approximately nine months before the birth as a baby grew within the womb of its mother. It is this time that I feel is the most important aspect of the story of Jesus, and for one reason without the pregnancy there would not be any ministry to learn from, and there would not be Calvary, and there would not be the hope of Easter. It is the conception of hope that begins it all. And for hope to emerge and be born into the world it was necessary to have a man and a woman to be willing to step up and bear that burden.
It is easy to focus on Jesus and Mary during this time of year, I mean Mary had to do all work, but for this all to work Mary needed assistance. The times were different in the first century than today, a child without a father then was a child cursed. For God’s plan to work not only did he have to chose a worthy and willing mother but that mother would have to be supported by a worthy and willing man. We tend to forget the importance of Joseph in our celebrations, rarely are carols sung about Jesus being held in the arms of Joseph. But this man had a very important role to play.
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” Matthew begins his gospel first with a genealogy, which most of us just gloss over and leave for those nights we need help getting to sleep, but the story begins with these words. The genealogy is important because it shows us that this was not just something random coming out of nowhere, but that history was building to this point, the point where a child would come. There is a heritage that goes back to the beginnings of the promise, one that connects this very moment with everything that had proceeded and linking it to everything that will transpire after. And the story begins with a child, Mary, and Joseph.
I want us to just think about the introduction to the story, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” These words are pregnant with hope; I can almost here the dramatic score playing in the background. “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Mary was found to be with child, she was found. Matthew begins this story with the scandal, and the dramatic score comes to a crashing halt. She was found with child. There is trouble here. How do we find a girl with child? Her mother probably noticed that Mary was not acting right, her appetite changed and she probably had morning sickness, and then people began to talk. We know that people began to talk because she was found to be with child. This is a scandalous story.
Now enters Joseph, the betrothed, the fiancé. Mary is found with child before they lived together, so the scandal gets even worse. People begin to question not only Mary, but her parents, and Joseph as well. In the first century culture courtship was very different than today. It was not uncommon for a bride and groom to meet for the first time on their wedding night, even today in more traditional expressions of Jewish faith the marriages are arranged and there could be little of no contact between the potential bride and groom. So Mary is found with child, which means that something has been going on out of the public view. Joachim and Anne’s, Mary’s parents, righteousness came into question because their child is with child. People begin to wonder did they allow their daughter to go out unsupervised with a man? And Joseph’s righteousness is questioned because his bride to be is pregnant.
Joseph did not have a clue to how this happened, Joachim and Anne are also clueless. The scandal builds and brews. This pregnancy will cause great trouble in the family. Mary is now labeled as an impure woman, and everyone associated with her are also facing the same future. If Joseph marries her he admits to society that the child is his son, if he does not then Mary faces a life of unwed poverty or death. If Joachim desires both Mary and Joseph could be stoned for adultery so from the very beginning we have scandal. Joseph is faced with a great challenge, Mary’s very future is held in his hands, his future is held in his hands, and the future of all mankind.
Joseph is a righteous man, Matthew assures us. Joseph was respectable in the community. He was established enough in his trade and had enough wealth that he was able to marry in their culture. In ancient times all women married up. They did not marry men their own age but married men older than them. Men had to prove to their future father in laws that they were worthy of supporting their daughter at an equal level. So Joseph was engaged, and established, he was a member of the synagogue and gaining a standing in the community. He followed the law and did all the things a good man would do in their culture. So when Mary was found with child Joseph actually had a major issue. This could change everything. He could lose his name, his standing, and his livelihood.
Joseph in his righteousness decided to divorce Mary. He chose to cut off the engagement. This was the righteous thing to do. The child was not his. If he divorced her then for him nothing would change except that he would need to find a different bride. Joseph was also a kind man loving and respecting his future bride. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace. This is where the importance of Joseph really comes out. But to really tell the story we must go back in time.
Joseph is a very important name in the history of Israel. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, the son all the other sons were envious of. He was the youngest at the time, but was the one that had the father’s favor, meaning he was going to have the inheritance. All the other, older sons would have to find their place under him. But Joseph was sold into slavery and taken to Egypt. Joseph through many twists in life became the one through whom the salvation of Israel came. During a famine it was Joseph who rose from a slave to being the second most important man in Egypt, and in that position Joseph controlled who lived, through the distribution of food. Joseph is a strong and noble name. It is not surprising that this name, the name that links back to the salvation of Israel, is linked to the salvation of humanity.
So Jesus’ future, the future of Israel, hangs in the balance of Joseph. He is a righteous man, following the laws of God passed down from Moses, but he is also a man filled with grace and compassion. Joseph could have brought Mary before the council during the divorce where the community could demand her life. But he did not want to disgrace Mary or her family. Righteousness could demand one thing according to the law, mercy another.
Joseph chose a different path, even though he was initially choosing divorce, he was choosing mercy for the future of Mary. Although he was choosing to step out of her life for the sake of his religion and standing he wanted to make the exit out of love and not hate. Joseph is a merciful and gracious man. It is no wonder that God chose this couple to be the central group of his salvation plan. But divorce was not part of that plan so God had to step in. Joseph was making his choice based on his human wisdom, but God had other plans. We could learn a thing or two from Joseph.
Our wisdom is not enough; if we were to only rely on our wisdom we could make devastating choices for the future. Joseph knew the law and was an intelligent man, he was a master craftsman established in the community, so he knew what was required of him. But in all of his wisdom, he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life. Luckily for him, he did not make his decisions quickly. His wisdom pointed him in one direction divorce. His heart and his emotions pointed him in a different direction. He loved Mary and did not want to disgrace her, and so those two things coupled together lead to a quite divorce. Mary would still be unable to marry in the future, but at least she would live. God wanted Joseph to take part in the salvation of Israel so as Joseph slept on his decision before he had a chance to implement his plan; God visited Joseph in a dream.
In that dream God allowed Joseph to see a glimpse of His plan. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid of marriage, because Mary was still pure. That she would give birth to a son and that Joseph was to name him. The name he was to give him was Jesus; which means God is Salvation, or God saves. Joseph in that dream got a glimpse of hope. Hope was growing in the womb of that innocent child that he was about to divorce. Hope was growing and that hope was not only salvation but also God with us.
How would you respond to that dream? In all of Joseph’s wisdom it made absolutely no sense. To take Mary as his wife he was facing a stigma in society, but that did not matter because hope was growing in that womb.
In my opinion Christmas or the birth of Jesus is the greatest event of Jesus’ life because it is where the story of God with us begins. It is prefaced with a long history, and is marked with scandal but the story begins with a child, a mother, and a father. It begins with hope in the most challenging circumstances, and that hope grew to be the salvation of humanity.
I now want to speak about hope. Jesus came through Mary and Joseph. The plan that God had for this family did not make worldly or even religious sense. But hope grew. Jesus was born into a very messy situation, the scandal around his birth was great, whose son is he was a question that plagued Jesus throughout his ministry but he pushed on through it to the joy that was set before him. Joseph and Mary both willingly took on their role in that bright future. That future is still here. The Spirit of God still dwells among mankind if we are willing to seek and find it. That realization is what made George Fox’s heart leap when he began his journey with God. God is with us teaching and guiding today just as He did when Jesus, God incarnate, walked among the disciples. The question is are we going to divorce what God is doing among us or are we going to move forward. Will we let our righteousness lead or will we let God’s grace triumph. Will we rely on our wisdom or God’s?
One night the fate of the world was held in the hands of one man named Joseph. His future wife was found with child, and he was confused and hurt. He did not understand why or what was happening, but he was slow and thoughtful about his reaction. One night. Joseph had to choose, life or death, mercy or justice. We can debate it theologically but experientially he had to make the greatest decision of history. Will Jesus be born? Will God live with us? We live with those decisions as well. Will we allow God to live with us? Will we allow God to live through us? They sound like easy questions to answer but they aren’t. Each and every action and word we say has these questions hanging behind them, “will God live with us and through us?” Each person we meet and conversation we have has those very questions hanging between, “will we let Jesus live through us and with us?” It does not matter if we have correct theology or the right answer in the arguments because if we do not answer these questions in word and deed every moment of every day with every person we met we run the risk of divorcing ourselves and others from the great love of God. But hope grows. It was knitted together as a baby in a womb, it emerged as a boy on that first Christmas morning, it grew to be a man that showed us the holy rhythm of life with God, a life of worship, prayer and service. And that hope took on all of our failures and lifted them up to God’s glory. This Christmas let us choose life, let us choose grace, let us not be afraid to walk forward in God’s plan.
Scripture: Luke 1:46b-55
Every life is precious to the Lord. This is one of the principal testimonies of The Society of Friends, throughout history. It is seen in our Testimony of Peace, where we believe that even those that oppose our nation are precious to God in some why. It is seen in our testimony of simplicity, because we strive to live our lives so that we can be free to bless those around us. It is seen in our testimony of equality; we see that all people are equal and should have the same opportunities as every other individual. I could go on and on about how important each and every life is. Today is a day to honor the uniqueness and potential of every life that we have an opportunity to encourage.
Today I want to introduce you to a woman by the name of Jessamyn. Jessamyn was a normal little girl who was born on a farm in Indiana. No one fully knew what type of woman she would become, but she was encouraged to use the gifts and passions God gave her. Her family moved from the farm in Indiana to California when she was six and they settled in a rural community call West Home by Yorba Linda. Many of you may recognize that name because it is the same community that brought our nation our 37th president. A Sunday school teacher encouraged her, this teacher she described as a fiery persuasive teacher, and was instrumental in her future. This teacher was her relative as well as the father of Richard Nixon, Frank Nixon. Jessamyn went to Whittier college to study English and while there she helped form a women’s group called the Palmer Society, this society was set up to inspire and encourage female authors and is still very active today on the campus at Whittier. Her studies took here from California to Europe where she became ill with tuberculosis; she was never expected to live. While she was sick she began to write. She wrote about her childhood memories growing up as a Quaker farm girl. One of her books, “The Friendly Persuasion” was later made into a movie. A small girl raised in a rural community, encourages countless female authors even after her death, and wrote about her life and faith. No one ever imagined that this one girl could be so influential, or that she would become one of the most influential voices of Friends for a generation. No one would have ever imagined that from that same community a future president would be reared either. Two lives that made a huge impact in the world during their lives. Both grew up as common children in a common meeting or church, just like each of us.
Every child is special not because of their heritage or economic status but because of the great potential and future they have before them. We all know that Jesus was special and unique, but as we consider this passage today I want us to not look into the future but look at the present state of mind of Mary. She had no idea what the future would hold for this son of hers, all she knew was that he was going to be special. That he was the Messiah the chosen one of God and that she had the unique place in his life to raise Him. But did she really know what that unique place would be?
Mary knew that her son would be special in some way, but just like everyone else in their culture, she did not know how her son would change the world. She knew that Israel was oppressed and that she herself was not seen as that important to the community. Yet God chose her to participate in something amazing. Did her parents’ know that their daughter would be chosen for such an important task? Did her grandparents know that their future grandchild would be the one from which all things would be made new? The short answer is no. As far as any of these people in history would know their children were just common children that would live and work in their community. Yet as history would show they were raising greatness.
When Joseph was taking the child with him to work each day did he know that he would be encouraging the future king of the universe? As they would work together did their conversations and laughter shape the way that Jesus would interact with those he would eventually teach?
Just as Frank taught the people in his Sunday school class he encouraged each to live their faith in everything they did. Mary and Joseph trained the child entrusted to them to be the man that he was to become. We do not know what the future will hold for anyone. We are called to train up our children in the way that they should go. We are called to train them, to encourage them to dream and to follow their dreams. We are called to teach them the basics of life and to let them stretch out their wings to fly. To train does not mean to control or manipulate. To train is to walk with them in life, teaching them how we live and make decisions, and giving them the opportunity to live their own lives.
Mary and Joseph were not equipped to train up a king from a worldly point of view. They knew nothing about the art of persuasion; Joseph was just the equivalent of a modern day handy man. Today he could have been an electrician, plumber, carpenter, or mason. He learned his skills from his father as his father learned from his father, Joseph in turn taught Jesus the skills of his craft. Jesus the plumber king, can you really picture this? I hope that brings us a greater understanding of Mary’s words, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Mary and Joseph were of no real status they were common people trying to make ends meet like each one of us here today. They lived in a community that struggled to survive just like ours. They were like us but through their lives they changed the world.
What was special about this family that caught God’s eye? They knew what was important. They knew what was important to God; they knew that it was not great acts of passion but the common everyday generosity that built the community. They knew the lifestyle that God wanted for his people and we know this through the words of this expectant mother. They knew that mercy was greater than pride, they knew that riches were empty when people in their community were hungry, they knew that in the end the only thing that matters is how you love and encourage those around you. Mary knew this, and she knew that the true king of Israel, the true kingdom of God would be based on those things.
Frank Nixon taught those in his class that there they had a responsibility to their community, that God was calling them to serve in their communities to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. This training that was started in a small California Friends Meeting encouraged a young lady to passionately live her life during a time of great social change in their community. She lived through the depression, the Second World War along with 2 other conflicts, she saw her own cousin rise and fall in power. She saw glimpses of heaven here on earth and those are the things she wrote about. She wrote about the struggle of a testimony of Peace in times of war, she wrote about strong women in a culture that still struggles to give equal status to them, she wrote of faith and the power of faith in our lives.
We never know just how the lives God brings into our community will affect the world around us, but we know that it can be great. God used a family of simple carpenters to bring the Light of God to all people. The light we all celebrate and anticipate in this advent season. He used a farming family in Indian and California to provide a voice of encouragement to a generation of women. And He used a Sunday school teacher to inspire an author and president. God is calling us to greatness, He is calling us to participate in bringing the Kingdom of God to the people of this community and it starts with each life we have right here.
He is not calling us to criticize or to control their lives, but to train them, to encourage them to live the life that He is already inspiring and calling them into. There is greatness all around us; there is potential that we have yet to imagine. We could have in this little meetinghouse a future president, a great artist, or a missionary that will show people here in Kansas City or around the world the awesome and great love of God. We could have in this very room the beginnings of a movement of people that would flood the world with passion for God that has yet been seen on earth. It can all become a reality if we rise up to the task of Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with others.
You see that is what made Mary blessed. That is what turned God’s attention to her to become the bearer of God incarnate. It is through that kind of life that God can be with us today and through the ages to come. A life of worship, prayer, and service is what God is calling us to and if we listen and encourage those around us to listen we will see the blessing God desires to give us. It all starts with us choosing to live that life today; to become a people of blessing and of encouragement to each person may happen to cross our path. Each person here is important to God. Each one is loved by God and called by name to join Him in His ministry in their own special way. Each and every one is called and known by the God who came to be born of Mary, to be raised by Joseph, to teach in the fields of Israel, and to die on a tree to set us free from all the bondage and sin we have gotten ourselves into. Every life is important and sacred to God, worthy of our love and encouragement.
I hope that the song Mary sung will become our anthem, that the words she spoke about the future of her son will become the lifestyle we chose to live among a people and culture that opposes it. I pray that we will become a people of blessing, a people that will choose to do good even if it does not make worldly sense, I pray that we will become a people that will love and inspire those around us to such a degree that the for generations to come people will look back on their time with us as being the turning point of their lives. I pray that that lifestyle of blessing and encouragement will start today as we dedicate and commit our lives to the training up of a precious life that God has given to a family that means so much to us all.
Presentation of the Child
DeWayne, Tash, and Jasmine Rose, please come forward for this time of dedication.
Dedication of the Parents
DeWayne & Tash, you come to present yourselves afresh in commitment to parenthood, before us & before God. In appreciation for Jasmine Rose you are presenting her to the Lord.
In dependence on God’s grace, will you endeavor, by example & teaching, to provide her with a home of faith & love:
That she may know throughout her childhood and growth into womanhood the warmth, hope & freedom of the Christian faith;
That she may welcome life’s beauty, learn from its pain, & share in its joys;
That her love for others may deepen with knowledge & insight of every kind;
That she may discover what is the breadth & length & height & depth of the love of God, & of Jesus Christ who has made God’s love known.
That her life may be open to the grace & purpose of God & to the call of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Response: WE WILL.
Blessing of the Parents
DeWayne & Tash, you have been given a gift in Jasmine Rose. With such precious gifts come great responsibility. We see the pressures and difficulties of the path ahead and want to pray a blessing over you as you seek to follow the Lord in raising Jasmine Rose.
(The following prayer may be used, or a spontaneous prayer offered for the parents)
God and Father of us all, we know that you created families. You designed us, both male and female, and have brought together DeWayne & Tash to form a new life.
We ask that you would give DeWayne the grace and wisdom to be a father to Jasmine Rose. Fatherhood is undervalued in our world, but so vital to the development of healthy children. We ask for strength and courage in the years to come, that he would lead his family in your ways. Keep his heart soft towards his wife and his children so that they might always know the love you have placed in him for them.
God you also know a Mother’s heart. You speak of yourself as a Mother seeking to nourish and protect her young. We know that you have made mothers to possess a fierce love for their children.
We ask that you would give Tash the grace and wisdom to be a mother to Jasmine Rose. Motherhood is misunderstood by many, but so important for growing confident children. We ask for perseverance and fortitude as she watches her child encounter a difficult world. Keep her heart close to your own and allow her to trust that you will guide and protect Jasmine Rose so that she can release her to follow the plans you have for her.
God, bring them together as a united force to bless their children and care for them. Give them the tools they need to navigate this new challenge of parenting a baby together. Surround them with your people to love and support them in times of difficulty and struggle. Impress upon their hearts your love for them and their family, and keep their hearts rejoicing in the blessing of being poured out for one another.
God does not place us in the world alone but in a community to support and encourage us. We as DeWayne and Tash’s church family also have a role and responsibility to encourage them as they raise Jasmine to be the woman God wants her to be. Let us all stand together now and dedicate our lives to encouraging this beautiful girl.
Dedication of the Congregation
Pastor: “For God has formed Jasmine Rose in her mother’s womb, so we will praise God for she is fearfully and wonderfully made: Marvelous are His works.”
Congregation: “How precious also are Your thoughts toward Jasmine Rose, O God! How great is the sum of them!”
Pastor: God said, “Before I formed Jasmine Rose in the womb, I knew her.”
Congregation: “Before Jasmine Rose was born God sanctified her.”
Pastor: “For God so loved Jasmine Rose that He gave his only begotten Son, Jesus, for her. And this same Jesus said, ‘I go to prepare a place for Jasmine Rose, and if I go and prepare a place for Jasmine Rose I will come again and receive her to Myself: that where I am, there she may be also.’”
Congregation: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on Jasmine Rose, that she should be called the Daughter of God.”
Pastor: And Jesus said, “Let Jasmine Rose come to Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Based on the following texts: Ps. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:5; John 3:16; John 14:1-3; 1 John 3:1)
Blessing of the Child
Gary Smalley and John Trent in their book, The Blessing, mention five basic parts to the typical Jewish blessing that fathers gave to their children.
1. Meaningful touch: Kissing, hugging or the laying on of hands were all a part of bestowing a blessing.
2. The spoken message: Basically a blessing is a statement of acceptance.
3. Attaching high value or honor on the person: In Hebrew the word bless literally means, “to bow the knee.” This word was used in showing reverence, even awe, to an important person. A blessing given to your children must have this same element.
4. Picturing a special future: Children need something to look forward to; something that will give them hope that good things will come to them in the future.
5. An active commitment: The last element of the blessing pictures the responsibility that goes with giving the blessing. For the patriarchs, not only their words, but God Himself stood behind the blessing they bestowed on their children.
So we lay hands on Jasmine Rose and we say today that you are loved, you are precious. Before you were born, God formed you in your mother’s womb. You are full of potential, with gifts and talents that we will delight in discovering as you grow. You are part of an earthly family, and you are part of our church family. When God calls your name, you will become a part of His forever family. We know that you will fulfill the good plans that God has for your life. We, your parents, your family, and your church family covenant together to surround your life with grace and truth as you grow and discover His great love for you.
Scripture Numbers 6:23-27
23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 “‘“The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’
27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
As we now enter into this time of Open Worship a time of Holy Expectancy as we wait with and for God to speak to us. Let us remember that period of time where Mary and Joseph, and their community sat in wonder of what and how the son they were to raise and encourage would become the King of Heaven and Earth. Let us remember all those that God has placed in our lives to encourage today, and let us anticipate the future we have with each other if we are willing to live and answer the call that God has been writing in our hearts.
Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12
Advent is probably one of my favorite times of the year. It is filled with anticipation in many areas. The reality of winter has set in so as a child I always anticipated snow…ok I will be honest I was really anticipating a snow day where I wouldn’t have to attend school. As December rolled around Sears would send out their catalog the “wish book” and my brother and sisters would go through the pages marking the items we wanted for Christmas. Then there was the anticipation for Christmas in general. We could not wait. I mentioned before that my family really celebrated Thanksgiving and because of that we would not decorate the house for Christmas until December because my parents wanted us to remember to be thankful for what we had before we went into the anticipation of the season. I think this instilled in us a greater sense of anticipation and longing.
Today it is a bit different. I have a new outlook now that I have somewhat matured. I anticipate different aspects in this season than I did before. I anticipate the telling of the birth of Christ by my son James. And I remember the first time he told the story on his own. I anticipate the future of the season with Albert and to see the story come alive in his life. I anticipate the Story of Emmanuel illuminating the lives of those that I have the opportunity to walk with in their journeys of faith.
This season also has a form of darkness in it as well. We do not fully know the exact date of the birth of Jesus; many believe that the actual day was in the spring while tradition has placed the celebration of Christ’s birth in the winter. Some might find that discrepancy disheartening but to me I think it is encouraging. Winter is a dark time of year, the air gets colder, and the plants seem to just die. Winter is a time of scarcity, poverty, and fear. In ancient times it was difficult to survive a winter. Winter usually brings out great amounts of illness, depression, and despair. This time of year we long for the warmth of the sun, the greens of grasses, and the singing of the birds. It is no wonder that in ancient times the celebration of the birth of Christ was set in winter, because it is a time of unknowing and hope in something unseen. It is a time where humanity had to live on faith. We need a time where light can come into the darkness.
The changing seasons have always been a source of spiritual thought. They show us that everything has a time, a place, and that nothing stays the same. In the darkness of winter our lifestyles usually slow down and take a different focus, we spend more time in our homes together, and less time running around. It is in the darker days the things that mean the most to us become more important. This darkness is not only found in winter but can be found when ever we have a trial in life. This is they type of feeling we find an entire nation in as we read of the ministry of John the Baptist.
Israel is in a dark period of their history. It is not the darkest moment but it is not the best either. They look back in their history and they know that at one point in time they were great but on this day they are a nation ruled over by another. They are a province lorded over by an empire, and others are eating the fruits of their labor and they struggle just to survive. They pull together in groups of like-minded people and form basically a tribal system of governance headed up by religious factions that come together on only a few common themes. The only light that they see is that they are at home in the land of their fore fathers and have a temple to worship in, beyond that the economic and political landscape is a wilderness. So they anticipate a new era, a new day, a new kingdom where they can once again live free as the people of God. The problem is that the various factions are at a constant battle between themselves as to what that new day will look like, and how it will emerge. In the struggle to dominate the only area of their life that they can still discuss, they oft forget that they are on the same team, that the end goal of all is the same. The Kingdom, or the restoration of Israel as it was.
Then enters a man, John. He is out in the wilderness, preaching passionately, and living oddly. I want us to sit here for a bit. Matthew gives us a clear image of John, he actually gives us a clearer description of John then he even give to the central figure of the Gospel Jesus. We know what John wears, where he lives, and what he eats this is actually very important.
John wears garments of camel’s hair and a leather belt. His clothing is functional, durable, and simple. It catches attention because it gives little regard to fashion trends and focuses only on utility. John lives a life of simplicity, and as a wonderer. This gives a depiction of his message.
He eats locus and honey. I have heard a couple of versions of what this might mean. The most obvious is that he ate bugs sweetened by honey. The second version of what this might mean is that he ate bread made of the seeds of locus trees, which is very bitter and poor bread. Either way he ate the food of poverty, eating only what could be found in the wilderness. Honey was widely available to all classes of people, and was the only sweetening agent available to the poor. Bugs or locus bread are the food of the desperate. This gives us an image of his message.
John lives and preaches out in the wilderness. He lives on the fringes of society out in the uninhabited and uncultivated areas. We often think that he is out in the desert, but that is not exactly the fullest truth. It is the area that is unfit for the growing of crops and is left for grazing, it is unclaimed because it has little value. It is also a depiction of his message as well.
John lived the life of poverty and simplicity wondering out in the wilderness of unclaimed land, it is almost as if his very life is an image of the Exodus. But we must remember that John was not a poor man. His father was a priest, and John was his only child. John had an inheritance; he had a home and land to live on. He had a ready-made career in the temple by his very linage, yet he chose to live on the fringes of society. Spoke his message there in the Wilderness.
He is the voice crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He cried out to everyone to, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come near.” This term repent is one we often hear, but the language that John uses is much deeper. In the old testament the word translated as repent means: to turn back, turn to, return, to return, to restore, to be returned, recovered, be brought back. The understanding of repent was about restoration and turning back to the one that we once knew. But this is not what John was preaching. When John cried out in the wilderness he was using a word that was much different it meant: to change any or all of the elements composing one’s life: attitude, thoughts, and behaviors concerning the demands of God for right living. The usage of this word is in essence saying that there is nothing to restore because there is not anything there. John was saying to the people of Israel that they are as far from God as the very Gentile overlords and that there needs to be a total change.
People came from all over Judea to listen to his message, it caused them to change and they confessed and were baptized in the river Jordan. They crossed the waters and entered into a new life the very action was one not used for Jewish people but for Gentile converts to the Jewish religion. And people came, not only Gentiles but also the Jewish people. Even the very ones that lead the various religious factions, the Pharisees and Sadducees, came to be baptized by John. Yet to them he had even harsher words, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?”
Brood of vipers? I have to admit I did not enjoy researching this passage, because even pictures of snakes can send shivers down my spine. But I spent time reading about this phrase. Vipers of Asia are unique reptiles that can either lay eggs or give birth to living offspring. In ancient times it was believe that vipers would eat their way out of the mother snake while in the process killing their mother. I tried to research this out further to see if this was a fact or just a tradition of history, unfortunately there were too many snake pictures so I cannot confirm or deny this statement. Regardless the phrase stands in history as meaning, “Mother killers.” Who is the mother being killed? John cries out to the religious leaders saying you are killing our faith you have eaten your way out into the world and in the process taken the very life away from everything you stand for. John says you brood of vipers have killed Israel, killed the very thing you claim to protect. Israel is no longer the light of the world but a dead carcass spewing out little venomous snakes.
Darkness surrounds them all. The only hope is found in the words of a crazy man living on the fringe of society, a man that turned from a life of prosperity to hopefully bring people to the God they never knew. The kingdom of Heaven has come near. There is hope in those words. Even though the religious leaders have killed the religion, the kingdom has come near. The kingdom is just ahead the new day is just around the corner. Do not lose hope in this darkness because the light is on the horizon. Repent; change every aspect of you life.
John is calling them and each of us into something greater. He is calling us to repent, to change everything about our lives to align them with God, to become a people that is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with other. John is crying out to everyone that will listen, to throw away that old life and the things that bring status and honor in that life and to clothe ourselves in something else. It is very similar to the many cycles within the church. Those in the early church gave all they had to the apostles and everyone’s needs were met even through harsh persecution. This period of time was followed by abundance where the church was in a place of honor and people like St. Anthony left society to live in the wilderness giving up all the wealth the world had to offer to live a life of simplicity in the wilderness, giving rise to a new day in the church. This too was followed by abundance and complacency and St. Francis, a wealthy man, gave up all his wealth and lived a life of simplicity and charity to spark a revival in the church. Again followed by abundance and leaders began to eat through the mother and poison the faith. Then emerged the Lutherans and other various reformations occurred bringing repentance to the church, and these became established and again religion ate the way through the relational aspects of faith. The cycle continued bringing about the Society of Friends and other various denominations and religious orders in Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic expressions of faith each one rising in their own ways and each dying in others. God is continuously at work in His world continuing to call us out of the comfort of society to the margins to build and restore relationships with Himself and humanity. He is calling us each to repentance. The question then is, are we willing to answer that call and step out in faith, step out into the wilderness to cry out to the lost? Or are we going to be a brood of vipers eating our way out into the world in the process killing what was once there?
There is a new day coming near, a new era in the cycle of the church. Some hope that it is the second coming and it is fine to think that, but in the anticipation of that great day let us not become lax and comfortable. Let us instead actively participate in bringing hope and light into the darkness of our world by totally turning to God in mind, body, and spirit. Let us now join together in a time of Holy Expectancy, a time of anticipation as we listen and wait for God to speak to us and through us, and let us become the people God has called us to be.