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Monday, November 29, 2010

+ ADVENT + T W O + Year A

Lexegete™ | Year A | St. Matthew

Second Sunday of Advent

December 5, 2010
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Prayer of the Day

Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia. Prepare the way | of the Lord.
All flesh shall see the salva- | tion of God. Alleluia. (Luke 3:4, 6)

1a. CONTEXT: Matthew 3:1-12

The formidable figure of John the Baptist appears in all four of the Gospels,but as is characteristic of Matthew, this account carries the Gospeler's own unique stamp. Source material taken from Mark (Mt. 3:1-6) and material shared with Luke (3:7-12) have been freely

adapted to communicate clearly Matthew's understanding of who John

was, why he had come, and the significance of his ministry for the

Jewish-Christian community for whom Matthew wrote. A widely known figure, John probably commanded initially a far greater following than Jesus himself, a fact with which the early had to struggle. Though the problem of the relationship between John and Jesus is treated most extensively in the Fourth Gospel, nowhere in the

Synoptics is there more concern for presenting the Baptist (or

Baptizer, Mk. 1:4) in his proper place within God's plan of salvation

than in the Gospel of Matthew (K. Stendahl, Peake's Commentary, p.


Standing in the ancient tradition of the prophets--indeed by dress, habits and message being understood by some as Elijah himself—John appeared as the immediate forerunner of God's Anointed One. As Plummer perceptively pointed out decades ago, of the two trumpet notes John sounded, it was the second which revealed his particular role as herald of the Messiah (An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, p. 22). Like the prophets before him, John preached the coming wrath of God and a call to repentance. Yet it was John alone who was commissioned to issue that summons because " the realm of heaven is at hand" (3:2,AILL).These words also sound the basic theme of Jesus' ministry (see Mt. 4:17, 10:7; Mk. 1:15) and yet take on new meaning in light of the Cross.

As one who came to fulfill the prophecy of a voice crying in

preparation of God's coming, John makes clear that no one is exempt

from the need to repent and to prepare themselves to make straight

the paths of God. Clearly Jewish lineage was not enough to guarantee

entrance into the kingdom (Mt. 3:9). Only those who bore the fruits

of repentance would be spared from God's righteous axe and the fire

of judgment (Mt. 3:10,7:19,12:33;Is. 10:34). "Repent"--not a

half-way declaration of our sins and vague feeling of contrition but

a radical turning, returning to God, beginning again in a new

relationship with God. This word drives home the total demand of

repentance in both the Old Testament and the New. The Hebrew root

for "repent" (sub) is closely connected to the notion of God's

covenant with Israel and implies a returning to that relationship

Yahweh has established between God and God's people, despite the

faithless breaking of that covenant again and again. That sense of

radical conversion which puts us back in right relationship with our

God is clearly what lies at the heart of the Baptist's message,

reminding us not only that God has continually searched us out, but

also foreshadowing the reality of a new and unending covenant made

with us through Jesus Christ.

Matthew portrays John as lashing out at the Jewish leadership (the

Pharisees and Sadducees) as faithless and sinful: "You brood of

vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come?," invective which Luke

addresses to the multitudes (Lk. 3:7). For Matthew, the Jewish

authorities are seen as those who have willfully forsaken the true

Law of God, and are responsible for the people rejecting the Messiah.

(Compare Matthew's use of this harsh phrase in the words of Jesus in

12:34 and 23:33.) John comes to announce the time of judgment and

preaches a baptism of repentance and preparation using water as the

outward and visible sign of preparing ourselves to become highways of

God. Unlike Mark and Luke, Matthew reserves baptism "for the

forgiveness of sins" (Mk. l:4, Lk. 3:3) for Jesus alone. He may do

this to more clearly delineate the relationship between John and the

Messiah. As Stendahl has described it,John's batpism of preparation

and repentance gives way in Christ to a baptism not as preparation

for the Spirit but as one which gives the Spirit (Peake's Commentary,

p. 773). Suddenly baptism itself is transformed through Christ,

promising us both that which is life-threatening and life-giving, the

righteous judgment and the merciful love of our God. The humble and

despised servant depicted by Matthew, the Messiah, is understand as

the One who came to fulfill the Law and to go beyond it. John

pointed the way by proclaiming a baptism of repentance while

prophecying a baptism of judgment and redemption. The fire of

destruction John warned about becomes the fire that refines and

transforms and leads us to new life through Christ (Mal. 3:2a-3).

But as Matthew continues to reiterate, we must remember that it is

fire nonetheless (Mt. 13:30,40,49-50).

1b. TEXT: Matthew 3:1-12

The Proclamation of John the Baptist [NRSV]

3In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,

2‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’* 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptize you with* water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

The New Revised Standard Version © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.


1ν δ τας μέραις κείναις παραγίνεται ωάννης βαπτιστς κηρύσσων ν τ ρήμ τς ουδαίας 2[κα] λέγων, Μετανοετε, γγικεν γρ βασιλεία τν ορανν. 3οτος γάρ στιν ηθες δι σαΐου το προφήτου λέγοντος, Φων βοντος ν τ ρήμ, τοιμάσατε τν δν κυρίου, εθείας ποιετε τς τρίβους ατο. 4Ατς δ ωάννης εχεν τ νδυμα ατο π τριχν καμήλου κα ζώνην δερματίνην περ τν σφν ατο, δ τροφ ν ατο κρίδες κα μέλι γριον. 5τότε ξεπορεύετο πρς ατν εροσόλυμα κα πσα ουδαία κα πσα περίχωρος το ορδάνου, 6κα βαπτίζοντο ν τ ορδάν ποταμ π' ατο ξομολογούμενοι τς μαρτίας ατν. 7δν δ πολλος τν Φαρισαίων κα Σαδδουκαίων ρχομένους π τ βάπτισμα ατο επεν ατος, Γεννήματα χιδνν, τίς πέδειξεν μν φυγεν π τς μελλούσης ργς; 8ποιήσατε ον καρπν ξιον τς μετανοίας: 9κα μ δόξητε λέγειν ν αυτος, Πατέρα χομεν τν βραάμ, λέγω γρ μν τι δύναται θες κ τν λίθων τούτων γεραι τέκνα τ βραάμ. 10δη δ ξίνη πρς τν ίζαν τν δένδρων κεται: πν ον δένδρον μ ποιον καρπν καλν κκόπτεται κα ες πρ βάλλεται. 11γ μν μς βαπτίζω ν δατι ες μετάνοιαν: δ πίσω μου ρχόμενος σχυρότερός μού στιν, ο οκ εμ κανς τ ποδήματα βαστάσαι: ατς μς βαπτίσει ν πνεύματι γί κα πυρί: 12ο τ πτύον ν τ χειρ ατο, κα διακαθαριε τν λωνα ατο, κα συνάξει τν στον ατο ες τν ποθήκην, τ δ χυρον κατακαύσει πυρ σβέστ.

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975,
United Bible Societies, London

2. ANALYSIS: Matthew 3:1-12

Mt. 3:2 (see also Mt. 4:17) - metanoiete, eingiken gar hei basileia

ton ouranon - The Greek more literally means "the kingdom of the

heavens has drawn near" or "has come near." Marcan and Lucan

parallels employ "the kingdom of God"to point to the same reality.

Matthew paints a more eschatological picture (the final reign of God

yet to come in which all history is gathered up and brought to

perfection) while the teachings of Jesus in each of the Synoptics

also indicate the beginning of the new age here and now (Lk. 11:20,

17:21; Mt. 12:28; Mk. 4:11,26-29).

Mt. 3:9-10 - poiesate oun karpon axion teis metanoias - ("Bear fruit

that befits repentance": AILL) - The Greek for "bear" also means "do"

and is elsewhere translated as "produce" as well. For Matthew

"fruit" clearly equals "deeds," i.e. confession and repentance must

lead to something mroe than contrition, i.e. to works which embody

that radical re-turning to God.

Mt. 3:12 - kai diakathariei tein halona autou - ("the Sovereign will

clear the threshing floor":AILL) - The Greek literally means to

"thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor." In the mouth of John these

words point to the end time when the fiery wrath of God will consume

all those who have not born the fruit of repentance. If we consider

the image of cleansing itself, we also find important connections to

the reality of Jesus' ministry in the present: as he teaches the

multitudes about God's sovereign reign, Jesus has compassion on the

crowds and stands in their midst as one who heals, cleanses, casts

out demons and raises from the dead. These are the marks of the

Messiah's presence (Mt. 11:2-6, Advent III). Judgment, compassion,

and the forgiveness of sins are all woven together, fulfilling yet

going beyond John's prophecy of the One who was to come. No wonder even the Baptist had second thoughts: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" As Frederick Buechner succinctly put it, "Where John baptized, Jesus healed" (Peculiar Treasures, p. 70).

3. STRATEGY: Matthew 3:1-12

If we respond to Advent as a season of repentance, new possibility

and hope, indeed as an invitation to participate with God in

"creating all things new," then we recognize that serious personal

preparation and intentional outward action must be woven together to make ourselves the very pathways of God. It is a thrilling if

terrifying thing to join with Joseph and Mary in becoming bearers of

the Christ. What does this really mean for us, individually and

corporately? What does it mean to truly live in expectation, in

hope? As suggested above,we must begin by recognizing who we are and whose we are. Quite solitude and the kind of prayer which comes only out of the silence of our hearts is a good place to begin. We can

help our congregations continue on this journey even as the rush

towards Christmas accelerates. Advent is a time to discover God's

time, to create space in our lives for reflection and medition on the

One who has come and who is continually breaking into our everyday

lives now. Being ready, being prepared, yet living in open

expectation that we will be surprised and gifted beyond our most

cherished dreams--the preacher can help the congregation take

serously the Gospel's call to repentance while helping them see the

new life which awaits and the new life which we also give birth to

when we re-turn to our God. Rather than ignore or whitewash the notes of judgment sounded in this passage, it is part of our task to link

judgment, repentance and new obedience as the foundation of the love

and life we wait and hope for. In keeping with John's cry, key words

might be recognition and vision.

In an old Advent essay entitled "Recapturing Lost Visions," John

Westerhoff defines repentance as a change in our perception, the

recognition that the reign of God is at hand, that life in the world

to come has indeed begun (A Pilgrim People, p. 46). Advent, he says,

"is a season of paradoxes: longing anticipation and patient watching;

transforming the way we envision life and yet living prepared; living

out a wait for what never seems to come and continuing in hopeful

trust; desiring to give up control and opening ourselves to new

possibilities for life" (A Pilgrim People, p. 43). Just what IS the

kingdom of heaven all about? Who shall inherit it, and how? What

ARE the fruits of true repentance? The Gospels give us some rather

specific answers. How do we recognize our individual and corporate

fiathlessness, forsaking justice in the name of self-interest and

greed? How do we recognize the Christ within and around us, how do

we create enough room inside to be pregnant with new life,new grace,

new hope? How do we give birth to that Presence and receive it anew

through the lives of those around us, friend or stranger, rich or

poor, sinner or saint? In the midst of a tired, chaotic, sinful and

self-destructive world, Advent offers us the opportunity to see and

to help create a different reality, one which helps us to glimpse if

just for a moment the reign of God which is at hand. Repent--bear

fruit--enter new life in Christ!

4. REFERENCES: Matthew 3:1-12

Blickenstaff, Marianne. “The Bloody Bridegroom: Violence in the Matthean Family .“


Bill, Alan. Gospel Origins (pdf). 2008:

Buechner, Frederick. Peculiar Treasures. San Francisco: Harper &

Row, 1979.

Plummer, A. An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St.

Matthew. London: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1910.

Stendahl, Krister. "Matthew," pp. 769-98 in Peake's Commentary on

the Bible,ed.M.Black & H.H. Rowley. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons,Ltd.,1962.

Stendahl, Krister. The School of St. Matthew and its use of the Old Testament. Uppsala: C. W. K. Gleerup, Lund, 1954; 2nd ed. 1968.

Stendahl, Krister. "Quis et Unde? An Analysis of Matthew 1-2," in The Interpretation of Matthew (ed. Graham N. Stanton; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995): 69-80.

Westerhoff, John. A Pilgrim People. Minneapolis: The Seabury Press,


5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Matthew 3:1-12

The 2nd Sunday of Advent offers a rare opportunity to lift up the striking figure of John the Baptist not only in Scripture and sermon but in song as well. PREPARE THE WAY, O ZION (HB 65,LBW 26 alt.) and ON JORDAN'S BANKS THE BAPTIST'S CRY (HB 76,LBW 36) are good choices.

Other Hymns which also convey significant Advent images relating to


If the preacher wants to draw a conscious connection between the

Advent Gospel and the need for repentance, an unusual and

thought-provoking hymn choice would be WHERE RESTLESS CROWDS ARE THRONGING (LBW 430). This is a hard-hitting lyric to the old Welsh tune LLANGLOFFAN. It underscores the need for Christ's presence in a world where many do not have the eyes to see that presence.


Gathering: Of the Father’s Love Begotten – 295 (LBW 42)

Kyrie: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – 257, st. 2

Praise: Angels We Have Heard on High | ELW 289, stanza 1

Wreathlighting: Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah - 240

Hymn of the Day: Canticle of the Turning – 723 [alt., ELW 241]

Offertory: In the Bleak Midwinter – 294 (vs. 3)

Communion: Unexpected & Mysterious – 258 [alt. 265 or 264]

Sending: Fling Wide the Door – 259 [alt. ELW 631, LBW 315]

Exegete: Rev. Katheryn Keene, a graduate of Yale Divinity School was ordained by the Episcopal Church in America, and has also served in Lutheran and Congregational Churches. She is presently Interim Minister at the First Congregational Church in Worcester, MA.




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