Second Sunday in Advent 8:30 A.M. Sermon

December 4, 2022: 8:30 a.m.
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19; Saint Matthew 3:1-12

It’s all about the roots. That’s Isaiah, Matthew, and John the Baptizer’s nuanced corrective to our societal and churchly obsession with “the fruits;” most recently exemplified by our ongoing 2023 stewardship program: Deeply rooted. Joyfully revived. Faithfully bearing fruit. Our emphasis has been on the fruits – our time, talent, and treasure, the tangible results of our faith and tangible “proof” that we are faithfully living. Today, however, Isaiah, Matthew and John the Baptizer forcefully remind us: it’s all about the roots.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,” Isaiah proclaims, “and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

Matthew’s John the Baptizer, puts this a bit more harshly: ”Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Each make it clear: It’s all about the roots. Good roots, good fruit.

Isaiah proclaims this as God’s Promise to anxious Jerusalem and Judah, surrounded by hostile forces, isolated from possible allies and, from the king down to the beggar in the street, certain that their city, their nation, their faith, and their royal family – the family line of Jesse and David and Solomon – would be decimated. To these fear-filled, fretful, faith-faltering people Isaiah proclaims God’s Promise of a peaceable kingdom of justice and equity for all ruled by a spirit-filled, righteous king of Jesse and David and Solomon’s line. Why does Isaiah say this will be so? Because it’s all about the roots and the roots are strong because they are deeply planted and nourished in the LORD who makes and keeps Promises forever.

It’s all about the roots. John the Baptizer makes a similar point, although his –Those critics – Matthew calls them Pharisees and Sadducees, but we’ll have to deal with that labeling on another day – those critics define their “roots” in their ethnicity – “We have Abraham as our ancestor;” the Baptizer insists that those ancestral roots will be destroyed – indeed, by the time Matthew writes his Gospel they had been destroyed, along with their Temple and their priests and their city – and that it was time for them to turn around and find their true and lasting roots in the Promises of the LORD who makes and keeps those Promises forever.

It’s all about the roots. It is good and right to focus on the signs of our faith. Isaiah, Matthew, and John the Baptizer agree with us there. They each speak of changing our ways. They each call for repentance. They each emphasize what the writer of James makes clear that, especially with regard to Christ’s Church, our families, our neighbors and the justice and equity God expects to function in society: “Faith, with our works (Roots, without fruit) is dead.”

But the One the Baptizer points to also makes it clear: It’s all about the roots. And when that One comes among us, in God’s Promise proclaimed in word and water and meal, it’s the roots –- the faith, our trust in that Promise – that Christ comes to nourish and to strengthen.

Here at this font and table and pulpit where Christ gathers and nourishes us, it’s all about the roots. Outside these doors – from the narthex to home to workplace, shop and street, John preaches “to the people of Jerusalem, all Judea and all of us deeply-rooted folks: “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” That’s what our mostly root-less, often fruit-less, world most desperately needs.

Amandus J. Derr
Interim Senior Pastor