Saturday, December 12, 2009

C, Advent 3 - Luke 3:9-10, 16-18 "Chop-Chop"

The radio announcer says, "It's a quarter to eight!" Then the familiar sound of the ABC radio news opener fills the air — and all hell breaks loose. Lunch boxes, homework, jumpers, school bags, toothpaste, teeth brushed, hair combed, laces done, and out the door. Because the bus – she's a comin'!

It was amazing how the news opener would turn us towards what needed to be done, so we could get on our bikes and ride the half mile to the front gate where we met the school bus each morning.

You'd have thought we'd have learnt our lesson from the countless times before when our procrastination and playing caused us to be late — time and time again. But no! Being late for the bus was a regular occurrence, just as regular as the ABC news at a quarter to eight.

If we were out the door at a quarter to eight, just as the music from the opener rang out, it would be a leisurely ride on our bikes to the front gate where the bus would arrive at five to eight. But any later the ride turned into a panicked dash at the last minute.

Only now am I beginning to learn of my mother's dilemma — and my wife, her mother's dilemma — as we go through the same struggles to get our children out the door on time for school. But in all of this I remember mum's regular word of encouragement so we would not be late. Chop-chop! Chop-chop! These words burnt themselves into my brain just as has the ABC radio news opener. "Chop-chop boys, you'll be late for the bus, if you don't get a wriggle on."

John the Baptist came calling chop-chop! But it was not the school bus to which he was calling Israel's attention. He was calling Israel to turn and be prepared for the coming of Christ.

In his proclamation, John the Baptist appealed to the crowd, "The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." "What should we do then?" the crowd asked. John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. (Luke 3:9-10,16-18)

Chop-chop the axe is just about to swing! Repent and return, be the trees that bear good fruit, the axeman is coming to chop down the trees that don't bear the fruits of righteousness.

John's message was long in coming. He was the last of God's prophets but only after four hundred years of silence. Last week we heard from Malachi who said, "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap." (Malachi 3:2)

And now John came proclaiming that Christ would come to "baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire". The launderer is coming to wash with the Spirit; the refiner stands ready to refine with fire!

John heralded that a new era was just about to begin; the axe was just about to fall on Israel like it had never before.

John reflects every proclamation of the prophets before him. These former prophets all called Israel to repent and return to God, and now John too cries out on behalf of God. But in his warning for Israel to chop-chop, the axe was ready at the root of the tree, as we hear God call through the former prophet Isaiah…

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the 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. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people… (Is 11:1-5, 10-11a)

And so with us, the call to "chop-chop" is one we all need to hear. The new era is ongoing the axe is at the root of our hearts ready to chop out all unworthiness before God. God calls you to chop-chop.

In this new era the axe falls! The first to get the chop was John who came calling us to chop-chop. John suffered the consequences of his undiscriminating preaching by literally getting the chop from Herod; losing his head in calling Herod to repentance for marrying his brother's wife.

Then Jesus' ministry of baptism and fire swung into full swing. He swung the axe like it had never been swung before. Jesus put the Law in front of Israel calling people to turn from their sin to God. He revealed the failings of the teachers of the Law; demonstrating that they themselves didn't keep the Law as God desired. He showed the piety of the Pharisees to be a sham, in that their piety didn't lead to God's glorification but their own.

The people heard, chop-chop! Just like we kids heard before the coming of the school bus. Chop-chop! Just like Isaiah, John the Baptist, and all the other prophets had called the fathers of Israel to chop-chop. Now the music began to play, just like the quarter to eight news, as the Son of God came to chop-chop, chop into the heart of humanity's sin.

Jesus came with the Law, like no other. Not only did he enforce the Law, he extended it to the holiest extent. Hatred is now murder! Looking in lust is now adultery! There are now no loop holes in the Law. Chop-chop the axe is swinging!

The axe is swinging on us too! Christ brings to us this holiest of Law. He calls you to repentance! He comes bringing judgement on you, and me! He comes as the Launderer and the Refiner. He comes with a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist brought this "chop-chop" message to the people, the same message which comes to you today. Like the crowd, the tax collectors, and the soldiers who asked John, "What should we do then?" we are also called to ask, "What should we do?"

What should you do? Christ has come and Christ will come again. Chop-chop, Jesus is coming!

The axe has fallen, on you and me! But unlike John and many of the other prophet of the Law beforehand who fell under the axe. Unlike many of the Israelites who fell under the axe of God's Law. The axe of the Axeman, the soap of the Launderer, and the fire of the Refiner came down on Jesus Christ in a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

Never before had the axe of God's Law come down as hard as it did in Jesus birth, life, and death. The axe fell hard on Israel, and it falls hard on us, and Christ wore its full force on the cross. Chop-chop, God's One and Only Son got the chop, for Israel, for humanity, for you, and for me.

We are in the new era of Salvation now! The message of the prophets still stands but now their message stands together with the Apostles' as they point to he who took the chop for us being baptised into death and bearing the fires of wrath on the cross for us.

For us today who live between Christ's first and second coming the call is for us to chop-chop, and be ready for Christ to come again. And we ask, "What should we do?"

And the prophets, the Apostles, and Christ himself call us to chop-chop — to believe in the Word of God! Believe that Christ's baptism into death is binding your baptism into his life, that Jesus' fire of judgement and death at Calvary should have been your deadly eternal fire into death, and Jesus' resurrection is your hope of resurrection to eternal life with him.

The axe has swung! Chop-chop! You have been grafted onto the stump of Jesse! Now let Christ bear good fruit in you! Let the greatest fruit you bear be the fruit of faith that you are now in Christ unto eternity. Why? Because Jesus, he's a comin!

And so with joy, praise and thanksgiving we hear from Isaiah in chapter 12, "In that day you will say: 'I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.' With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:1-3)

And finally from Philippians 4, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Amen. (Philippians 4:4-7)