Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10 Romans 15:4-9 Matthew 3:1-12
Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent. While the first Sunday of Advent is often devoted to the theme of the second coming of Christ, the second Sunday of Advent is normally devoted to John the Baptist preparing the way for the First coming of Christ.
And so the key verse in our Gospel passage is verse 2, from a quote from Isaiah, the words “Prepare the way for the Lord”. John was to prepare the way for God’s chosen messiah, the Christ.
But in Advent, these words are an invitation to us too… as we journey to Christmas Day, so we are encouraged to prepare a way for the Lord within our own hearts.
How do we do that? The message of John the Baptist remains relevant for us today, the way we prepare is through repentance… in Greek, the word is Metanoia.
Meta – can mean "changed, altered," / "higher, beyond;
Noia – refers to our mental perceptions and to the mind or thought.
And so Metanoia could mean any of the following
"to change one's mind or purpose,"
“to broaden your perspective,”
Even “...to go beyond our normal, habitual ways of thinking.”
And so John the Baptist is inviting us to change the way we think… and perhaps to go beyond the ways we normally think.
I believe it was Eintstien who said that "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." In other words, what is needed is a fresh perspective, fresh insight. What we need is a metanoia.
A major part of personal and spiritual transformation is in the way we think…The Apostle Paul believed it: In Romans 12 he says “Be changed or transformed by the renewing of your Mind.”
Interestingly this is in line with some of the teachings of the Buddha from a little book called the “Dhammapada”: In it the Buddha suggests that the way we think and see the world determines how we act in and experience the world. Our thought patterns are key in determining who and what we are, and how we experience and interact with the world. Change your thinking he says and your ways of living in the world will change… it is all quite logical in fact.
And so in opening verses of the Dhammapada we read the following:
1 All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.
2 All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.
In these verses from the Dhammapada, the Buddha is inviting us to consider our thoughts with care and if necessary to change our thoughts to achieve new outcomes and new results in our lives. In essence, like John the Baptist, he too is inviting us to metanoia.
And so John the Baptist invites us to prepare the way for the Lord. The way we do that is to change our thinking. Or at the very least to at least be willing to discard old thought patterns, old beliefs that no longer serve us, that are not leading us in a good, and wholesome direction, and to be open to a new and a better or a higher way of thinking.
The passage from Romans picks up this theme in a different way. In it Paul suggests that the change in our minds needs to come as we adopt the same attitude as Christ. Which is another way of saying we should adopt the mind of Christ. In verse 5 Paul refers of having the same attitude of mind that Christ had and then in verse 7 he suggests that to have this same attitude as Christ, to adopt the mind of Christ, should lead us to accept one-another, as Christ has accepted us.
Verse 7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
And in this portion of the book of Romans, Paul also says that this mind or attitude of Christ is also a mind that doesn’t give up. Some translations use the word, perseverence. Others use the word endurance. Both of those words sound a lot like gritting your teeth. But ‘not giving up’ sounds a lot more like remaining positive, forward looking, filled with a sense of hope.
The Mind of Christ is the Mind of Love that does not give up and Paul writes that everything written in the Scriptures of the Old Testament were written to encourage us not to give up.
Turning to the passage from Isaiah, these truths are expressed in yet another way:
The passage like last weeks passage from Isaiah was written at a very difficult political time in the life of the little Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already been wiped out. Now the Southern Kingdom remained under constant political threat from surrounding nations and most especially from the Assyrian Empire.
In this time fraught with difficulty, the prophet Isaiah looks forward to the coming of God’s chosen Messiah: In a way, he describes what the mind and the spirit of this new leader will be:
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord--
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
And so to prepare ourselves for the Lord is to seek this mind of Wisdom and Understanding, this mind of Counsel and Strength, this mind of knowledge and reverence towards God, this mind that does not jump to rash and quick conclusions based on surface observation, but a mind that judges with fairness and righteous especially towards the poor and the needy of the earth.
And the Prophet Isaiah suggests that with the coming of this Mind of Christ, or the future Messiah, a new relationship of peace and harmony will be achieved on the earth. Even humanity will live in a renewed relationship with nature, no longer a relationship of enmity or destruction as expressed in these beautifully poetic words in verses 6-9
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
And so today, we are invited to prepare the way of the Lord… to make straight paths in our heads and our hearts, and in doing so to become agents of God’s peace, light and love in the world. Amen.