December 4, 2022

The Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2022 - (8:30 am Service)
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72;1-7, 18-19 Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

From St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in
believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” I speak to you in the
Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today’s scripture lessons urge us to be steadfast in our hope that God’s kingdom – a kingdom of
redemption, unity, and grace for all - can be the world’s reality right now if God’s people will
continue, as Deacon Michael reminded us in last week’s sermon, the work God has set before us:
that work of being God’s life-giving, welcoming, and nurturing presence to all in need. I find that
message timely. See, hope is a part of our Christian everyday speech. We say we hope in God. We
trust in God. We believe in God’s steadfastness, that God keeps every promise. We speak of our
hope for a better world, for peace, for mercy, and for God to intervene in our own personal lives. We
might hope for the healing of loved ones, for the redemption of broken relationships, for peace in
our own homes. (Some hoped that Team USA would prevail against the Netherlands and advance in
pursuit of the World Cup!) Sometimes, however, just like with soccer games, our hopes go unfulfilled
and yet, we continue to hope for God’s kingdom to be the world’s reality. And sometimes all we have
to cling to is hope.
Just as the word, “hope” is a part of our daily speech and outlook, so it is in our culture. Newspaper
headlines hope for an end to inflation and for improvements to stock portfolios. Some people hope
(and pray) for an end of gun violence in our communities. Retailors express hope for a profitable
holiday sales season. Ski resorts hope for record snow while others hope for no snow at all. It seems
that the word hope is a part of society’s vernacular just as it is a part of our faith. In fact, hope is
universal to all creeds and conditions throughout the world because hope is what people need, aspire
to, and cling to.
In Isaiah’s time, the broken and conquered people of Israel hoped for a better tomorrow. In
today’s reading, we hear of their hope for the day when their nation will be restored, when God’s
justice and righteousness will rule, not just in their nation and every nation of the world, but in all
creation itself. Isaiah offers the people hope for a new king who, arising from the lineage of David,
that remnant root of Jesse (David’s father), will be a king like no other before him. He will judge not
by what he sees or hears, but rather, by what he discerns abides in the hearts and minds of his
people. He will be filled with the Spirit of God so that he will judge with equity and be righteous and
faithful in all things. For Israel, he will be the ideal king, and, for Christians, that king is none other
than Jesus of Nazareth, whom we believe, trust and hope is the promised Christ and Messiah.
And as time passed and Isaiah was followed by more prophets like Jeremiah, Micah, Daniel, Hosea
and others, people began to hope that this king would not simply come as a Shepherd and restore
them to wholeness, but as a warrior – a warrior who would forever rid their land of all oppressors
and restore their national pride. So, by the time John the Baptizer arrived on the scene in 1 st century
Palestine, the people of Israel were convinced that the Messiah, their hope, would toss their Roman
oppressors out of their land and restore their nation to power, influence, prosperity, and holiness
once again.
Now we need to remember that Isaiah painted a picture of a Messiah who would come and judge
those who are evil, but would also show mercy, understanding, and wisdom. Yet, centuries later,
John the Baptizer paints a picture of a Messiah who comes solely as a terrifying judge. There is no
mercy in John’s depiction of this king. He says, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear
the threshing floor and will gather his wheat … and burn the chaff… So, bear fruit worthy of
repentance (because) the axe is lying at the root of the trees; and every tree that does not bear
good fruit (will be) cut down and thrown into the fire.” John’s depiction of the Christ is startling. This
is not the sweet baby Jesus we see in the manger, the vulnerable child, the one about whom the
angels sing, and simple shepherds adore.
No. John says that the Christ comes to judge, that the promised kingdom – a kingdom of God - is
about to be set up and you’d better watch out! And people do prepare themselves and repent. But
then, Jesus does the unexpected. He doesn’t judge. Rather, he welcomes, he restores, he heals, he
forgives, he makes the lame to walk and the blind to see, he eats with sinners and outcasts, he
drinks with those whom society shuns. This Jesus is not the Christ John nor the people expected. We
might recall that later when John is in prison and hears reports of Jesus’ ministry, he sends word to
him asking, “Are you the one?” (Are you the one, or not?) John expected a new regime, a new
government, and a violent overthrow of the Roman oppressors, but God who always astounds our
plans and desires, did something completely different and far greater. With the arrival of the Christ,
God offered the entire world hope – a hope that went beyond borders, hope that didn’t care whether
you are Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. In Jesus Christ, God offered hope that
permeates the soul and promises we will be judged not by what others see or hear or what they
think about us, nor by who they think is welcome in God’s kingdom, but by what is in our heart.
Salvation is no longer based upon who one is, or what one wears, or with whom they associate, but
by that which dwells in one’s heart, one’s mind.
The early Church clung to that hope of redemption based upon what dwells in the heart – you
know, hope that inspires faith and honest repentance which brings about real amendment of life, not
empty words or actions. The first Christians proclaimed that message of hope, proclaimed that God
judges with equity and righteousness, that God judges the heart. And yet, by the end of the 1 st
Christian century, that message of hope, welcome and inclusion so vital to the ministry of the
Church began to change to a message of exclusion, to keeping rules, to upholding certain traditions
like circumcision and other rites. And that message of the incredible life-giving hope – this gift of
God - began to die as the Church chose to separate herself between Jew and Gentile, male and
female, slave and free, and each considered the other unworthy of God’s grace and unworthy of
God’s promise of redemption.
St. Paul writes to the Church at Rome reminding them and us that what Christians have above all
other things, is hope – hope of resurrection, hope of redemption, hope of salvation, hope for
wholeness, hope for forgiveness, hope for mercy – and hope, Paul says, is what we must offer each
other and be steadfast in so doing. Paul says, “Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed
you” – with all your shortcomings. All that Christ requires of his followers is a repentant, loving and
forgiving heart, a heart that strives to uphold God’s values, God’s love, God’s way of life. Paul says,
“May this hope” – not your rules, not your elitism – but the very God of hope “fill you with all joy
and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope.” Believing is what matters. And believing,
friends, fosters hope that so often changes our tomorrows just as it has shaped and changed our
todays and yesterdays.
We like hearing St. Paul’s inclusive words because most of us descended from Gentiles, from
those once excluded by and from the Church but, thanks to Paul, now hold places of honor in the
Church. Yet on this Second Sunday in Advent, this day that urges us to not only remember but be
steadfast in the hope we cling to and steadfast in the hope we share, I wonder if Paul’s words might
ask us to think very deeply, as people of God, people of faith, as good church-people, think about
and ask ourselves, who are our Gentiles? Whom do we seek to exclude? Who do we, like John the
Baptizer, want God to punish and throw away? And in asking those questions, how might we offer
and commit ourselves to demonstrating to these “others” that same hope and welcome we our own
selves have received?
See, John says that every tree that does not bear fruit will die. The truth is if we – the Church -
do not bear fruit, we – the Church - will shrivel and die. In many ways, we – ourselves - will have
chosen to lay an axe at our own feet, our own root. God’s hope - the hope God offers the world –
trusts and believes that by faith in Christ alone all are welcome in God’s kingdom not because who
they are but because of what dwells in their heart, their mind, and so should the Church, and so
should – so must we.
Paul writes, “May the God of hope fill (us) with all joy and peace in believing, so that (we) may
abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Hope is who we are. Hope is our future just as it is
our past and our present. And in this Season of Advent, as we watch and listen for God, let us do so
with confidence that God invites those considered to be outcasts, people like me, like you, and
invites all of us to enter into this promised kingdom of God, to be made whole, to find and embrace
that true hope that offers to change our lives and the lives of all we meet today and forever. Amen.