St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
There's a place for you here.
Weekly Bible Study
Preparing for Sunday, December 8, 2013 | Second Sunday in Advent, Year A | Sign up for Weekly Bible Study emails | The Lectionary Page | Rector's Page
REMINDER: This is the last Weekly Bible Study for the Fall Covenant Period. The guides will resume at the beginning of the Winter Covenant Period. If you are on our email distribution list, you will receive the next guide Sunday, January 12, 2014. (Want to sign up to receive weekly emails? Fill in your email address below.)
The Gospel | Matthew :1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 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.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Background and general observations
John the Baptist figures prominently in the season of Advent, for obvious reasons. This is a season of preparation and reflection, and John the Baptist is a reminder, among other things, that an unexamined life can be a disaster. The appearance of John the Baptist on the Second Sunday of Advent is an invitation to step back from business as usual and to ponder in a piercingly honest way, “What changes need to be made in my life, if I am going to ‘prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight’ into my life?”
John perceived that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” There is an urgency about his message and a sense of immediacy about the presence of God. No doubt there are many urgent concerns in our own day. Is the importance of repentance one of them? And surely God is very near to us, even when we are drawn away from God. Where is God in your life now? What is God doing in the world around you? What changes need to happen in your life if you are going to be more present to God and better aligned with God’s activity in the world?
In John the Baptist’s day, the Hebrew people were in a state of anticipation. It was time for a change. Surely God had heard the cries of God’s oppressed people. The prophets had foretold a time when God would act decisively, and Matthew’s use of the prophecy from Isaiah was a clear message: God was speaking again. John the Baptist was announcing something extraordinary, something for which the people hoped and longed. How is God speaking again today?
The fact that John’s baptism is a “baptism of repentance” indicates that the preparation for God’s return would not be dependent upon ritual or ancestry. This preparation was all about changing one’s life to make it more open and receptive to the One who was coming. This lesson is our opportunity to ponder the necessary changes that will make the way for God straight into our lives.
Ideas for discussing the application of this lesson to our daily lives
1. Repentance and forgiveness are the heart of John the Baptist’s message and ministry. What do repentance and forgiveness of sins have to do with preparation for a fuller experience of God in our lives?
When have you experienced forgiveness, or the lack of it, as an important factor in your spiritual life or relationship with God?
Who has been a John the Baptist figure to you, someone who helped you most in welcoming God into your life more fully?
Have you been John the Baptist for someone else in your life?
2. One might say that ordinary people seem to be chosen vessels for God’s revelation, and wilderness seems to be a chosen place for God to be revealed. Ponder God’s choosing John the Baptist to announce God’s coming, instead of choosing a more prominent or powerful person. And ponder the wilderness as a chosen place for God’s revelation. Why John? Why the wilderness?
What do you know about wilderness in your own life? What makes the wilderness especially conducive to divine revelation?
If God has a special ministry to manifest in you, what might that be?
3. If John the Baptist were ministering today, how might he call our society to repentance? What needs to change?
In what ways might John speak very personally to you? In what ways do you need to repent or change your life, in order to be more open or available to God’s revelation?
4. John the Baptist came onto the world stage in a time of great anticipation. Most of us know what it feels like to be eagerly waiting for something, hoping for something. It might be waiting for a college acceptance letter, a house closing, a new job, the results of an MRI. For what are you waiting and hoping in the spiritual life? In what ways to you look expectantly to God in your daily life?
Advent 1 (December 1)
Christ the King, Year C (November 24)
Proper 28, Year C (November 17)
Proper 27, Year C (November 10)
All Saints, Year C (November 3)
Proper 25, Year C (October 27)
Proper 24, Year C (October 20)
Proper 23, Year C (October 13)
Proper 22, Year C (October 6)
Proper 21, Year C (September 29)
Study guides for the Spring Covenant Period (2013)
Would you like to receive email notification when this Weekly Study Guide is updated? Sign up here for the Weekly Bible Study email. We will not give your email address to anyone else, and you may unsubscribe at any time. Enter your email address below, and you will receive an email from Constant Contact, allowing you to confirm your choice.
you can trust