December 4, 2022, 2nd Week of Advent, Sermon preached by Rev. Katie Holicky

12.4.22 Advent 2                                                             The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector

Advent is a time we slow down and prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies to welcome Jesus at Christmas! This week, John the Baptist is reminding us that we must get ready. But before we turn to John… What is this? (picture of a light bulb). If you guessed, a light bulb… you’re right! Now, that was an easy one to get the ‘current flowing’. This one might not be as easy. Who is this? (picture of Nikola Tesla)

Nikola Tesla changed the world. He was an odd, obsessive, scientist and inventor from the Austrian Empire who people knew to be brilliant, yet a bit unusual. However, he deeply believed in his call to the field of science. And no matter how much people laughed at him he trusted in his imagination and visions of the future. Visions that would bring about a more just way of life for all people.

 One of the biggest tasks of his career was to convince renowned U.S. inventor Thomas Edison that electrical current could be more effectively utilized with Alternating Current versus Edison’s well-known Direct Current. (picture of both inventors, diagram of AC/DC current side by side) This was known to the world to be impossible, yet with Tesla’s steadfast belief and imagination, he found a way to make it possible, and he literally helped to illuminate the world. Has your imagination ever sparked something wonderful?

          I couldn’t help but think of the radical and wild mind of Tesla this week, as we come to this scene with John the Baptist. Both of these men were so deeply committed to being their authentic selves, answering the call of their vocation, inviting radical change into the world. More of Tesla later. For now, we look to John the Baptist. (picture of John the Baptist). Notice John’s clothes, hair, and bug eating. A bit of a different kind of character, no? John’s appearance and way of being highlight the, “… prophetic signs that associate him with (Old Testament prophet) Elijah (picture of Elijah), who also preached repentance, confessing sins, to the kings and religious leaders of his day” (TBC 298). John is teaching and baptizing in the wilderness telling people to turn their hearts back to God and prepare themselves for the coming of Jesus.

 And we notice who is coming to see John in the wilderness, “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea” (NRSV). (picture of people with Jesus) The same people Jesus would be teaching. We also note this pairing of repentance, turning back to God and asking for forgiveness, with Baptism. What does it mean to truly turn away from things that harm us and others, to a new way of being… to be washed anew and transformed?

We are given this moment in Matthew where John addresses the Jewish leaders; the affluent and elite. People who have a lot and don’t always share with others who don’t have enough. The climactic moment of this scene is when the leaders arrive at the river. “But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!” (NRSV). Ok, we are going to have a snake moment here so, close your eyes and plug your ears if snakes are not for you. Brood of vipers: (picture of snakes) Jewish scholars especially point to this insult, as in the day of John it would have been thought that a, “Brood of vipers, newborn vipers were believed to eat through their mother’s stomachs” (JANT 6). Yikes! We know now this doesn’t actually happen, but the ancients hadn’t learned as much as we know now. John is calling them vicious, mean, and only interested in self preservation, or taking care of themselves.

          John reminds the Pharisees and Sadducees that their heritage in Abraham, will not save them. It is by the fruit they bear that they will be measured (WBC). Here we see the Gospel of Matthew redefining what traditional family meant in ancient culture (WBC), while highlighting the need to “…to produce the kind of justice that fits God’s reign” (TBC 298). To be the difference between wheat and chaff. What does justice in God’s reign look or feel like? What actions might we take that show the world our faith as people who follow Jesus?

(picture of Tesla Coil) Nikola Tesla’s work didn’t just stop with his AC current. He also created the Tesla Coil. Very simply put, a device that could harness electricity from the air, clean, free energy for all. When faced with the choice to transform, offering equity to the world, Edison’s capitalist money-making inventions remained prominent. Edison, a leader in his field, and his community, was unable to transform in this way, and it has had far-reaching impacts that still impact us all today.

Simply saying we are followers of Jesus isn’t enough. Our actions matter and the fruit we bear helps us to examine the ways in which we need to transform or change. John names the need for transformation from the religious leaders gathered. This is the part of the message that WE really need to listen to. “We are the ones who must look at the fruit of our faith and what it is or is not bringing about in our community” (hitchhikingthebible.com). I really appreciate how this one writer puts this, “Transformation requires pruning and destruction of old ways of life. Those who sought new life received baptism as a sign of purification and commitment. But, the cleansing waters of baptism must be preceded by a change of heart and lifestyle” (patheos.com).

          John the Baptist is helping us to truly make room for The One who is to come, and while he points to Jesus, he invites us to examine our lives and do the real work needed to transform. And we trust that with sacred transformation in God, we too, become more of our authentic selves. Ready to tap into our own prophetic voices in the world… like Tesla… John the Baptist. So, today we welcome transformation as a part of our Advent adventure. What must be pruned, turned away from? And what commitments are we being called to make as we look forward to the illuminating light of Christ coming into the world? What will you do this season to prepare your heart, mind, and body to welcome Jesus at Christmas?

Resources: Jewish Annotated New Testament, Women’s Bible Commentary, Theological Bible Commentary, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2013/12/the-adventurous-lectionary-the-second-sunday-of-advent-john-jesus-and-spiritual-friendship/ ,  http://hitchhikingthebible.blogspot.com