In those days, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near!” Yes, this is he of whom this was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.”

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit in keeping with repentance! Do not think of saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 10 Already the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I baptize you with water for repentance. But the one who comes after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 3:1-12

I’m ready for some way different traditions for Christmas this year!  How about you?  Are you with me?  Instead of a decorating a Christmas Tree I’m going to decorate a Christmas ladder.  Yup, I’m going to by an eight footer, paint it blue, wrap toilet paper and lights around it and then spay it with a can of Pam vegetable spray.  Won’t that look cool!  Then, instead of hot Cocoa and Eggnog with nutmeg and cinnamon, I was to drink cold chicken broth and Apple Cider Vinegar sprinkled with garlic and coffee grounds.  Yum!   And aren’t you sick of Bing Crosby singing, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas?”  This year we’re going to blast rap music by 2Pac while eating Veggie Burgers from Grub hub!  Doesn’t this sound like a really different Christmas!?  Are you excited?  Probably not.

This Advent Season we are going to sing the songs of Advent and Christmas just like we did last year.  We decorated the church, lit the candles and hung the banners just like last year.  But, for those of you who paid attention to the gospel lesson today you might have heard a needle sticking it to the balloon of usual, cozy, traditional Christmas celebrations.  Maybe you heard the call of John the Baptist looking for change to make things different in God’s kingdom.  Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to do today.  Let’s take John’s message to heart and

Prepare For God’s Christmas Kingdom

The Kingdom is different   

Pretty telling start to Matthew’s prep: In those days,  When Tiberius Caesar was pacing the halls in Rome, Pontius Pilate was keeping his eyes on conquered places like Jerusalem, Pharisees called on Israelites to keep their lives clean to earn God’s approval, and Sadducees were more concerned about counting temple fees than comforting souls.  God’s people were oppressed and were dreaming for a kingdom once again like it used to be when David and Solomon were ruling.  But, John came preaching about a kingdom that was way different!  In those days, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near!  Students of the Bible hear the word, “kingdom” and know there are various meanings.  Is it God establishing his chosen people on earth?  Is it heaven as opposed to hell?  Is John predicting the end of the world?  Or have you caught on that the kingdom John is talking about is way different? 

The kingdom John is talking about is not like our kingdoms with a palace, politics and prince as much as it is a force!   This kingdom is located in the hearts and minds of God’s people.  It is a kingdom that is established and expanded by a message.  The message isn’t, “Do your own thing,” but a message that says, “Watch God do his thing!”  There are hints of this unusual kingdom just looking at John himself. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.  He didn’t set up a classroom in a wing of the temple.  His clothes certainly showed his poor status and this diet was only to be eaten by people who had nothing else.  Still, people went out to him and heard a different message from him.  Against the backdrop of all kingdoms and traditions of this world that didn’t last, they heard about a kingdom that was way different—a kingdom that lasts!  They heard about God’s kingdom, confessed their sins and rather than hearing condemnation from John, they received a baptism for the forgiveness of their sins!   The kingdom John was talking about was way different because the King of this kingdom was way different!

The King is different

The people came out to John because of his words.  They heard John being talked about as the forerunner of this new king. Yes, this is he of whom this was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.  John was the one preparing the way!   Would this new King push their enemies aside, get rid of the Romans and oppressive religious leaders?  Would he pat us on the back for being his people?   John’s message was way different!  11 I baptize you with water for repentance. But the one who comes after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  John was pointing his listeners to a way different King.  This King would send the Holy Spirit through the power of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament to fire up a bonfire in their hearts.  These people, in turn, would be used to proclaim the Good News of this different King, to baptize, offering forgiveness so many more people might enter into God’s radically different, but eternally different kingdom than anything on earth. 

You all get this.  But, truth be told, what kind of King would you like to have right now?  One who would make life easier for you, stop all the disasters, make the sun shine every day, get me a better job, make my kids behave, make me popular at school, take this cancer away, put more cash into my bank account, and do it all now!  But, look at this King! He’s way different!   He didn’t make full use of his divine power but willingly suffered in our place.  His life offered to God as our Substitute redeemed us to be his very own.   Now, that’s a different King!   Therefore let us repent of our trying to make Jesus the King of our wants and desires, and let’s follow this very different King, which means

We Can be Different!

The Pharisees and Sadducees came out to see John, too.  They thought they were different because of their claims on traditions and power.  The problem was that they didn’t know the difference between traditions and traditionalism.  Do you?  Tradition is the living faith of the dead.  Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.  John pressed his finger into their arrogance, But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit in keeping with repentance! Do not think of saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones.

We can thank the Lord and say that we are different from those Pharisees, however, just saying you’re different doesn’t make you different.  They thought their goodness counted before God.  It didn’t.  They snaked their way out to see John, but they were no different from their father, the devil, who snaked his way to visit Adam and Eve.  And just as a brush fire burns out the snakes, so the truth of God’s Word burns up their sinful arrogance. 

God’s kingdom is different and calls us to be different!  Jesus’ forgiveness and love has already made us God’s very own people.  Through faith in Jesus we are already different in God’s eyes.  Now, it’s time to live what God has made us.  Why?  Hear John’s warning, 10 Already the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Heed John’s warning and put away the sinful desires of your heart.  Then, arise forgiven and be different in God’s kingdom and love it!  In God’s kingdom we no longer live for ourselves, but we live for the Lord.  In God’s kingdom we no longer live to build up my kingdom, but work to build up God’s kingdom.   We are freed from the burdens of “have to” and get to live in the kingdom of “want to.”  Look how much Jesus loves me!  Now I get to love him by being different!

No, I’m not suggesting that you have to change all your fine Christmas traditions like trees, cookies and music.  I am suggesting that we can stop following the sinful desires of our hearts.  Say, “No!” to Satan’s temptations.  Be more generous with your time, talents and treasures all the while doing something radically different than the world around us— be different because we trust that God will take care of us.  Prepare yourselves for Christmas by repenting, praying and trusting in God’s promises.  Know you’re already prepared because you are robed in Jesus’ righteousness through faith in him.  Trust your different King to bring us his different Kingdom and enjoy being different for him.  Amen!