Sunday Message Supplement for 8 December 2019: “Peaceful Transformation”

On this second Advent Sunday today’s message combines Isaiah (11:1-10), Romans (15:4-13) and Matthew (3:1-12).

Isaiah captures an expectation for the coming of God’s righteous teacher, whom many perceive as pointing to Jesus or John the Baptist. Whoever is this messiah-like figure, Isaiah narrates how there will be a magnificent, blessed age. Isaiah’s vision of peace is like much of the Christian faith: easy to preach but difficult to reach. Despite the challenges, it is still worthwhile to strive for a more peaceful existence. As an aside, you needn’t get stuck in the mud arguing about literal biblical prophecy in Isaiah or other Bible books because the key is to claim God’s promises in the present for a better life now.

In Romans, Paul encourages peacefulness. Getting along with people isn’t easy and there were hot disputes even in the ancient church. Christians are diverse, and peering under the veneer of history reveals nasty, persistent divisions between individuals, churches and denominations. Paul’s writings reveal that there wasn’t a golden age when all Christians agreed. Then as now, spiritual maturity is a journey and the process of renewal requires a transformed lifestyle. The challenge is to stay positive and overcome interpersonal conflict. As you come together in Christian fellowship, you can transcend differences by directing your energies toward redemption of yourself and others.

John the Baptist, Jesus’ second cousin, is pivotal in the reading from Matthew. John’s version of repentance involved the physical act of baptism, which Christians have adopted from Judaism. John did not invent baptism but he emphasized a distinct aspect of its power. The church has continued baptism such as John practiced and there is spiritual significance attached to the symbolism of this popular water ritual. Word spread quickly about the novelty of John’s message as varied classes gathered throughout Judea to receive a reassuring dunk in the Jordan River.

John the Baptist disturbed the waters of the status quo. John warned that baptism is an initial step in spiritual renewal and that it’s only helpful if those receiving baptism make systemic life changes. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jewish sects who would later dispute Jesus (Matthew 3:7b). Perhaps those religious bureaucrats sought social status and grassroots, populist favor. That’s why John cautioned those being baptized to avoid religious fashion or outward, superficial solutions. John is a reminder to those being baptized to examine their motivations and to realize what they’re committing to.

John warned those being baptized to not embrace ancestry as a substitute for authentic spirituality. “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’. . .” (Matthew 3:9a). John’s statement reveals how people rely too much on heritage and tradition, failing to accept responsibility for personal transformation. There’s a tendency in religion for people to rely excessively on rituals, which are powerless absent comprehensive lifestyle changes. Don’t fall into the same trap as John’s ancient audience by assuming that you can inherit redemption or accomplish it by reciting a liturgical playbook. Baptism isn’t magical but it is an outward expression of inner revitalization.

God’s message echoes through the ages: share love and truth as you encourage peaceful renewal. Activate the gospel by proclaiming Jesus’ love into the hearts and minds of every living creature. No matter how or even if you were baptized, the key is extending your inward changes out into the world. Rejoice as you witness God’s power through interpersonal peace and spiritual renewal.      –Reverend Hoxey

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