Welcome to worship on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 4th, 2022! We are hoping that the technology works this time around and that we are all able to worship together through the means we have available to us! If by chance it doesn’t work again, please feel free to download the bulletin found here, and go through it on your own, allowing the Spirit speak to you through words of the liturgy, the readings, and the sermon.
You can also create a more worshipful atmosphere in your home by having a lit candle in your space, representing the presence of Christ in your midst and with all of us. This candle can be extinguished at the end of the service, and the smoke can represent our prayers going up to God. You can also participate in communion with something small to eat and drink nearby, which represents our connection to each other and to the wider community of God, in spite of distance and time. This food and drink can be consumed at the appropriate time during the service.
May God’s unending grace be with you, this day and always!
O God, may our Word open our ears, your Spirit open our eyes, and your love open our hearts, that we be receptive to your instruction and empowered by your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This snow, am I right? I know, normally our weather is pretty mild, and we here in the Lower Mainland really pride ourselves with that. And really, we get this kind of snow at least once a year (ish). So when this does happen, do we really have to act like we’ve never seen snow before? Seriously. Every year(ish) we get this dump of snow, and people still are caught off guard and unprepared. Every year there is at least one horrible day in terms of road conditions, and people still say they don’t need proper winter tires. Every year our prayers of a no-snow season go unanswered, and yet people claim that they’ve never seen anything like it. Uh, how about try last year?
I get that people are at different levels of comfort when it comes to snow driving. I get that people have different experiences and training and practice. I get that people come from different climates and actually and literally haven’t seen anything like what we get. It’s just that… c’mon now seriously? Can we just collectively learn to be better? All I ask is for just a bit of preparation and common sense.
I mean you can either learn how to drive in the snow, or don’t drive on snow days. Leave work early. Take the bus. Call an Uber. Do something to minimize the inconveniences that you might cause by getting stuck in the snow.
When we get snow like this (at least once a year), I notice how divided people are. It’s like the whole city gets split in two: those who can drive in winter conditions, and those who were born in Vancouver. I know, that’s a huge assumption to make but it seems so true doesn’t it? Those who were born here, with the exception of I think only me, drive like they wouldn’t know what snow is even if it hit them on the side of their barn. And this divide seems as impassible as the Alex Fraser bridge on Tuesday night. Once you tell people that you’re born here, those assumptions fly and you’re painted as the worst driver ever when it comes to snow.
This sort of line that we draw and assumptions we make about people we know little about isn’t anything new at all. Sure, it might not be around driving or where you’re born, but it could be around the colour of your skin, the age group or generation you belong to, who your parents are or the kind of upbringing you had, your sexual orientation, or even what religion you put your faith in. Depending on what side you’re on, you could be susceptible to making or receiving these assumptions, you could be labelled as something that you aren’t like terrorist or bible thumper; accused of something you didn’t do like stealing or causing a ruckus; or called something that you aren’t like hypocrite or brood of vipers…
Yeah, so it seems even John the baptizer wasn’t above this way of thinking, this segregating of the worthy and the non, this line drawing in the sand between us and them.
But wait, this is John the baptizer, one of the main characters of the biblical narrative, one of the formational pillars of our faith, Jesus’ own cousin. Shouldn’t he, of all people, be above this? Shouldn’t he know better? Shouldn’t his description of these Pharisees and Sadducees be accurate and not an assumption?
You’d think, right? I mean we know all about these guys, their hypocrisy, their pompous and pretentious demeanour, their holier-than-thou attitudes. If John didn’t call them a brood of vipers, we certainly would have. But is that fair? Can we really make that sort of assessment of them? Is this not more drawing lines in the sand?
Because really, this is like the first time they’re mentioned in the gospel according to Matthew. While the early readers of this text would probably know of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they would have seen them with respect and honour. It’s probably not fair to make these assumptions of them this early in the game. If we look at the context, at this point what have they done wrong? Why are there assumptions about them already? Do they deserve to be called a brood of vipers?
I mean, all they did was come to be baptized like everyone else. All they did was try to be obedient to this call to repentance. All they did was do what they thought was right. We might make assumptions of their motives and reasoning, but that doesn’t mean that we’re correct. We can call them hypocrites all we want, but the truth of the matter is, so are we.
During the snow storm earlier this week, I couldn’t help but cringe at the things that I saw. There was this kid on the news who decided to just park his car on the side of Royal Oak like halfway up the hill, because he said he “knew his car wouldn’t make it all the way up”. So if he knew that, why did even go as far as he did and block traffic? Then I saw another guy who was a bit frustrated with the traffic so he started weaving in and around people until he spun out, slammed into the curb so hard that he broke his car and now had to wait for a tow truck, blocking even more traffic. Then there was this dork who was just driving his daughter home from the dentist and somehow lost control, locked up his brakes, and just narrowly missed two cars and a pedestrian and was only stopped by running up on the curb.
Ok, I admit that last one was me but in my defense it was really slippery out there. I mean seriously, I’ve never seen anything like it.
You know, we often make assumptions, call names, and draw lines, but much of the time we aren’t much better. Sure, maybe we don’t lose control on the road in the snow, but I’m sure we lose control in other areas in life. Maybe we aren’t unprepared for the conditions and took the time to properly plan and get ready, but I’m sure we find ourselves unprepared for other things at the expense of others. Maybe we can drive and navigate the wintery roads, but I’m sure that there are other things that we aren’t good at and wouldn’t want others to point them out and put us down for them.
The interesting thing about John and the Pharisees and Sadducees is that the text doesn’t say that he refuses them baptism. We aren’t told that he turns them around and tells them to come back once they’ve cleaned up their attitudes and gotten rid of their hypocrisy. We just don’t know what happened. But I’d like to think that he welcomed them and baptized them anyway. I’d like to think that John saw past his assumptions and saw this brood of vipers as God’s beloved as well. I’d like to think that Jesus’ cousin, this formational pillar of our faith, was able to erase the lines that he drew in the sand and humbly followed the call to love and accept others in grace.
I think this is what Isaiah was talking about when he said how the wolves would live with the lambs and the cows will graze with the bears and how the predators and the prey will learn to live in harmony. This is what the author of Romans meant with the Gentiles and Israelites having and following the same hope. This is why John talks about this Messiah who will come and change us to be more patient, more understanding, and more welcoming for the salvation of the world.
For Jesus comes with a winnowing fork, not to separate the saints from the sinners, but to take away our assumptions, attitudes, and obstacles that block us from seeing each other as equal partners in the gospel. Jesus comes to gather the wheat into his granary, not by selecting those who are good enough and deserving to be included, but by purifying all people through forgiveness and grace. Jesus enters the world and baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, not to condemn, but to save.
Save us from all that stands in our way of true community. Save us from our social constructs telling us what is right and wrong. Save us from the assumptions of each other that tell us that we are anything but beloved children of God, good driver in the snow or not.
In this season of Advent, may our hope in the presence of Christ lead us to tear down the walls and erase the lines we have between us, and learn to live together in harmony and peace, accepting each other as equal sinners, equal partners in Christ, and equally redeemed and saved by the love of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.