The season of Advent, at least as the church traditionally celebrates it, is a challenge for me. There are the prayerful, watchful hymns of Advent while much of America has been listening to Christmas carols for almost a month already. There are assigned readings in church that feel a little too far away from Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. And this Sunday, there's John the Baptist, whose message of repentance is not what I really need to hear as I am already painfully aware of how much there is to be done between now and Christmas and how I am getting a little tired and cranky already. The last thing I need is a message that provokes feelings of guilt, of not doing enough, and not measuring up to God's commands or expectations. Frankly, I don't want to be scolded by John the Baptist or anyone else for that matter.
Except that the word "repentance" does not suggest scolding, guilt, or shame but rather, at least from the original Greek, to turn around, to have a change of heart. Are there circumstances in your life that would benefit from a change of heart? Are there places where you feel stuck where to turn around would release energy rather than deplete it? John the Baptist is a strange character whose message to God's people may seem challenging, but is in fact life giving, especially when the more powerful one comes, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.
Here are some other questions related to this weekend's Gospel text, Matthew 3:1-12. (which we will be looking at in Bible Study on Thursday at noon).
1. What was the longest period of time you spent in the wilderness or away from "civilization." Where were you? What was it like?
2. Would you want to have John the Baptist as your pastor? Would anyone? Why or why not?
3. How might you paraphrase John's message for people today?
4. What angered John the Baptist so much about the religious leaders?
5. What are the similarities and differences between the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus?
With many of you back from Thanksgiving travels, we look forward to seeing you in worship this weekend. We remind you to bring your poinsettia order forms or fill a form out in the narthex this week if you would like to purchase a poinsettia to adorn our altar on Christmas Eve. We also encourage you to bring baked cookies to be delivered to our shut ins (along with gingerbread houses which our children and youth will be creating this Sunday night).
Finally, come to worship this Sunday with your questions about the Bible, worship, church history, St. Andrew's, or faith and daily living as we have an installment of "Ask the Pastor" with your anonymous questions directing our time of learning and growing together (questions can be e-mailed in advance as well). God's blessings to all of you in this season of preparation.