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November 29, 2020

Sermon Matthew 3:4. . .“Silent witnesses:  Locusts and wild honey”

“Silent witnesses:  Locusts and wild honey”

Matthew 3:4

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In an article entitled, The fifty weirdest foods from around the world, author Luke Moss writes, “It’s time to take a trip around the world and delve into all the weird foods we humans like to chow down.”  And he writes, “Consider this a public service and an education to save you from shock when you come across these, the fifty weirdest foods from around the world.”

So what are they?  At the top of his list are chicken’s feet, often served in East Asia, the Caribbean, South Africa, and South America.  Since chicken feet are mostly skin, apparently they’re rather gelatinous in texture.  But when properly seasoned, he says they’re pretty tasty.

Have you heard of Haggis?  That’s number two on his list.  Made of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, all minced and mixed with oatmeal and onion, then cooked inside of a sheep’s stomach, if you were to ever visit Scotland, you’re bound to try it.  But if that doesn’t sound very appetizing to you, I just don’t know what will!

How about that famous mystery meat known as “Spam”?  It’s not just in your email.  It can also be found on your grocery store shelf in that all-too-familiar blue can, a meat that’s, for some strange reason, quite popular in Hawaii.

And if all that’s not enough for you, there’s always Alaskan stinkheads, (that’s fermented king salmon heads), or Japanese wasp crackers, (think chocolate chip cookies with wasps instead of chocolate chips), Cambodian fried spiders, or French escargots, (that’s snails, of course), lightly seasoned with garlic and butter.

But if you just can’t travel that far, here in America we have some pretty strange foods too like, Turducken, (that’s turkey, duck, and chicken all roasted together), Rocky Mountain Oysters (which aren’t exactly oysters at all!), pickled pigs’ feet, deep-fried Twinkies, or everyone’s favorite, Jello salad.

The world is full of some pretty strange foods.

And in our text for today, we hear about two more--locusts and wild honey.

I’ll read the words of Matthew chapter 3:  “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”’  Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1-6).

Let me take you back for a moment, to see what’s going on.

As you might remember, from the very beginning, John was a most unusual man.  For years, his parents could never have children, until that day when his father, Zechariah, went to minister in the temple.  And just as soon as he entered that holy place to burn a bowl of incense, who should appear but an angel named Gabriel.

He said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”  And he said, “He will make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

“How shall I know this,” he asked, “for I’m an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?”

“I am Gabriel,” he said.  “I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you this good news.”

Then sure enough, just as the angel said, nine months later, John was born.  And that’s when  Zechariah burst out in song and said:  “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way.”

And prepare the way he did!  As Luke writes in his gospel account:  “He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).

To the tax collectors, he said, “Don’t collect any more than you’re authorized to collect.”  To the soldiers, he said, “Don’t extort money, and don’t accuse anyone falsely.”  And to the Pharisees, he said, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

And he said, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

It’s easy to say that, throughout this holiday season, our senses come to life.  The scents of burning candles fill the air, the lights of Christmas trees twinkle in the darkness, the sound of fire crackles in our fireplace, mini-marshmallows float on top of our hot chocolate, and snowflakes fall gently to the ground...

...When, all of a sudden, in the midst of the wonder and beauty and glory of Christmas, what do we hear?  There’s a voice crying out in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way of the Lord!  Make His paths straight!”

“Repent,” he said, “for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Back in 1937, the American Tract Society sponsored a contest in which they offered a prize of $1,000 for the best new book written on one of the “essential doctrines of the Christian faith.”

Now today, $1,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money.  But back in 1937, it most certainly was, so quite a lot of well-known Christian authors entered the contest hoping to win that prize.

And after quite a lot of thought and deliberation, a panel of six judges unanimously chose a book written by a man named Harry Ironside, a book he called, Except Ye Repent.  He based it on the words of Luke chapter 13:  “Except you repent, you will all perish.”

This is what he wrote:  “Fully convinced in my own mind that the doctrine of repentance is the missing note in many otherwise orthodox and fundamentally sound circles today, I have penned this volume out of a full heart.”

But even though that word, “repent,” is not a word we like to hear, still it’s a word that the Bible demands that we hear.

Think about it.  When Jesus sent out His twelve disciples, they preached, “that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).  When Pharisees grumbled at Him, and said, “Why do You eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).  When He returned to His Father in heaven, He commanded that, “repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).  And when Peter preached in the temple courts of Jerusalem, he said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

Even more, he wrote in the words of his second letter, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).  And as Paul once stood on Mars’ Hill, to speak with some of the very best and brightest scholars and philosophers of his day, he said, “In the past, God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

The message is clear.  In fact, if you were to sum up Jesus’ life and ministry in six words, you could say, “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).

And that’s the message of Advent.  And that’s the message we so desperately need to hear even today.  As John once preached in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!  Make His paths straight!  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Back in 1833, when a man named William Sandy published a book called, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, he included a song called, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.  Though no one has any idea who wrote it or even when, it’s not only one of the oldest, it’s one of the most familiar Christmas hymns of all time.

You know how it goes:  “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day; To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.  O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.  O tidings of comfort and joy.”

Now while you probably know the words, you might not know the meaning behind the words.  You see, it’s really not a song about “merry gentlemen” at all.

Let’s start with that word, “merry,” for example.  Here in this song, it doesn’t mean, “happy,” “cheerful,” or “light-hearted,” like we’re used to--”Merry Christmas.”  Instead, here it means, “strong,” “brave,” and “valiant.”  So it’s not, “happy gentlemen,” it’s “strong gentlemen.”  Even more, the word, “rest,” doesn’t mean, “lay down and sleep” either.  It means, “to make.”

So rather than, “Gentlemen, it’s Christmas, so God wants you to lay down and get some rest,” instead, it means, “It’s Christmas, so may God make you strong and valiant men.”

And in this song, not only do we ask God to make us strong and valiant, we say in the next line, “Let nothing you dismay.”  Let nothing shock you.  Let nothing alarm you.

So what makes us strong in the face of the trials and troubles of life?  What makes it possible for us to not be afraid?

As the song says, “Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.”

That’s the message of Christmas.  That’s the hope of Advent.

One more thing.  A moment ago, I mentioned all different kinds of foods we might never want to eat, like fermented salmon heads, fried spiders, and wasp crackers.  And probably somewhere on that list could be two more--locusts and wild honey.

So why did John eat them?  I suppose you could say he was poor, and when you live in the wilderness, you eat whatever the wilderness can provide--locusts and wild honey.

But maybe there’s more.  In fact, those two foods are a word picture of what John came to do.  For just as locusts often come to strip a land bare, so too God’s law and judgment will come.  Of that, there is no doubt.

Yet with that promise of God’s law and judgment, there’s also a word of gospel--honey--a time and a place where all things will be brand new, and tears will be no more.

And that’s the wonder, the beauty, and the glory of Christmas.

In the words of a poem, “Light looked down and saw darkness.  ‘I will go there,’ said Light.  Peace looked down and saw war.  ‘I will go there,’ said Peace.  Then Love looked down and saw hatred.  ‘I will go there,’ said Love.

“So He, the Lord of Light, the Prince of Peace, and the King of Love came down and crept in beside us.”

 

We could never thank You enough, dear Father, for all that You have done.  Help us to hear the voice of John crying out in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near,” and make us a people prepared, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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