Lexegete™ | Year A | St. Matthew
Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2010
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)
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.
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.
1Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις παραγίνεται Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστὴς κηρύσσων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τῆς Ἰουδαίας 2[καὶ] λέγων, Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. 3οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ῥηθεὶς διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ. 4Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Ἰωάννης εἶχεν τὸ ἔνδυμα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τριχῶν καμήλου καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, ἡ δὲ τροφὴ ἦν αὐτοῦ ἀκρίδες καὶ μέλι ἄγριον. 5τότε ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ πᾶσα ἡ Ἰουδαία καὶ πᾶσα ἡ περίχωρος τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, 6καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ὑπ' αὐτοῦ ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν. 7Ἰδὼν δὲ πολλοὺς τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς; 8ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν ἄξιον τῆς μετανοίας: 9καὶ μὴ δόξητε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸν Ἀβραάμ, λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ. 10ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξίνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται: πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται. 11ἐγὼ μὲν ὑμᾶς βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι εἰς μετάνοιαν: ὁ δὲ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἰσχυρότερός μού ἐστιν, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς τὰ ὑποδήματα βαστάσαι: αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί: 12οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ διακαθαριεῖ τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ, καὶ συνάξει τὸν σῖτον αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.
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: www.gospelorigins.com/GospelOrigins.pdf
Buechner, Frederick. Peculiar Treasures. San Francisco: Harper &
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
the Gospel texts include: HARK! A THRILLING VOICE IS SOUNDING (HB 59, LBW 37); COMFORT, COMFORT YE MY PEOPLE (HB 67, LBW 29); HERALD, SOUND THE NOTE OF JUDGMENT (HB 70); "THY KINGDOM COME" ON BENDED KNEE (HB 615); JUDGE ETERNAL, THRONED IN SPLENDOR (HB 596,LBW 418).
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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