Sunday, December 09, 2007

John the Baptist 2007

So the fourth John the Baptist sermon in my time in one church...

Isaiah’s vision sets out a technicolour, surround sound image of God’s Kingdom:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

This is nothing short of the Kingdom of God – note not in heaven but on earth. And how does that kingdom start? From a small shoot form the stump of the tree. [prop?]

A new branch bearing fruit from the old root as a conference put it this summer – The wisdom of the old with the passion of the young
The church’s history and all that’s gone before us but with new life and growth

Jesus talked of this small beginning when he described the kingdom as a mustard seed.

So how is that shoot doing in our branch of the tree of Jesse? Well we don’t think of it so much as a tree of Jesse nowadays. We have other kinds of trees on our minds I suppose. [PROP CHRISTMAS TREE]

What have we got hanging on it? Well, it’s shaped a bit like the mountain and we’ve got all those gifts which Isaiah describes this NEW BRANCH as having.

We’ve got:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord

Chocolate coins/candy canes:
Some delights here too – Isaiah tells us Jesus’ delight in the fear of the Lord.

We’ve got some lovely crystals here – they refract the light in all sorts of ways:
Isaiah tells us that this new branch shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear.

We’ve got a shepherd – Isaiah says this shoot will judge the poor with righteousness, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth

We’ve got a King – he will rule - he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked

We’ve got these lovely garlands like belts around the tree according to Isaiah Jesus would have a belt of Righteousness around his waist, and a belt of faithfulness around his loins.

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea or in an alternative translation the earth will be filled with people who know the lord as the waters cover the sea. (garland)

In our Epistle we hear:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,

This passage is calling us, not literally to be decorated like this tree. To be like Christ bearing good fruits
so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You don’t find many Christmas trees that look exactly the same and it’s the same with Christmas. We bear our fruits in different ways but Christ accepts each one of us so we should as St Paul says:
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

[There is only one you. There is no one else like you and there will never ever be anyone else like you. You have a gift to offer that can touch the world in a way that no other person's gift can do. It is not the gift but it is you. The whole world would be denied experience of that gift without you. No one else can take the place that God has purposed for you to express the uniqueness and beauty of you. God never create extras or substitutes. Every person is significant in their contribution no matter what it is.] – Enoch Tan

We may each be unique but we show that unique quality through our gifts and the fruits of those gifts.

Quite characteristically for a man who went around dressed in camel hair, eating locusts, John the Baptist puts it in a more challenging and stark way:
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do 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. Even 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.”

Strong stuff eh?
Well we do have another part of a tree we sometimes have this time of year. [PROP-log]
A yule log. The yule log was a pagan custom continued by some Christians – they would bring in a log and endeavour to keep it burning for the 12 days of Christmas.
This is the stump without the shoot. It’s not bearing much fruit, not growing much is it?

That shoot which Isaiah talks about comes out from the stump, from something that seemed unlikely to produce new growth. There is no such thing as a person unable of growing. Where does God want you to grow? What gifts does God want you to use? What fruits are you bearing?

Trees come in different shapes and sizes. Some don’t produce much fruit and some produce much more. But those that produce NO FRUIT well that’s clear

John the Baptist gives us a stark choice. To be trees bearing fruit and showing growth or to be destined for the fire. It’s not often we get such a clear cut passage that calls us to decide but this is one of them.

be trees bearing fruit and showing growth or to be destined for the fire

Which do you plan on being?

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