Second Sunday in Advent Matthew 3:1-10

I had to laugh at Tom Wright’s little joke… “You may think your house is reasonably tidy and well-kept…”

I took this snapshot immediately after reading that!

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In case you’re wondering – Mozart Mouse and Beethoven Bear, visible on the right of the picture, usually live on the piano.
“my mouse makes high sounds” said in a squeaky voice while the mouse dances on the keys at the right-hand (high-pitched) end of the keyboard.
“my bear makes low sounds” said in a growly voice while the mouse dances on the keys at the left-hand  (low-pitched) end of the keyboard.

So why are they not in their accustomed places, sitting at either end of the keyboard to act as a constant reminder for my pupils?
Simple. On Friday morning, while I was out listening to the school choir sing carols at their local library, I received a text from the piano tuner asking whether it would be convenient for him to tune my piano that afternoon. I arrived home at 11.15, taught a pupil from 11.30 to 12.15, and had precisely 10 minutes in which to clear the piano. Which is currently wonderfully uncluttered. But which usually looks like this…
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and that’s on a tidy day! It was worse on Friday… and the first thing a piano tuner does, in case you don’t know, is take the front panels off the piano in order to access the tuning pins.

So that was my “The King is coming!” moment last week. I vaguely knew a tuning was about due, but didn’t expect such short notice and I seriously wasn’t ready.

So – today’s reading. The reference to Isaiah is to this passage. The whole chapter is worth reading and re-reading – and the link takes you to the verse quoted in Matthew pus the next couple of verses. They don’t refer to a bit of gentle dusting and hoovering. They refer to seismic shifts in the landscape. That can be disorienting, terrifying, unsettling… and it isn’t a comfortable image. However, we need to beware of building faith on a foundation of fear – and that is what I read in Wright’s commentary. He seems to be saying “be scared, be very scared – because only then will you be willing to make the necessary changes”. Increasingly I’m finding myself taking exception to Wright’s very bleak, black-and-white approach.

For most of us, what we need isn’t fear – it’s release from fear. Sure, we need reminding at times of the need for unswerving allegiance to God as King, and we need challenging to be willing to undergo seismic shifts in our whole way of being. But more often we’re somehow falling down into the cracks which open up as seismic shifts in our lives and circumstances threaten to engulf us.

The axe is ready to chop down the tree, yes – but surely not the “tree” of individual lives. Surely the tree which the axe is ready to chop down is the tree of dead religiosity – the rottenness which can infect and destroy a living, moving, breathing, relational faith. Our trust is to be no longer in our ancestry, our heritage, our morality. No. It’s to be in the Lamb of God, God Himself taking our impurities and pain and setting us free from legal observance to live in loving relationship with Him.

So let us not get hung up over our imperfections. This passage, and particularly the commentary, can be read that way – but only because it’s out of the larger context. Look at how Jesus responded to every needy, broken person he encountered. Especially to the woman taken in adultery. In the act. No doubt of her guilt. He didn’t condemn. He forgave. He restored. He renewed. and only then, only after he had met her in love, did he challenge her, call her to newness of life. Always, every time, the healing, the forgiveness, comes first. And surely, surely… given that he commands us to forgive 70 times 7 (which is the kind of hyperbole which means “let it become habitual – dont’ count!”)… surely we are always forgiven, without limit.

 

 

 

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