JOHN THE BAPTIST
This morning, we are going to talk about one of the most important people in the Bible, a person whose role is often underplayed and underappreciated in his significance to our faith. I’m talking about John the Baptist. John is an interesting character because he is one of the few people, other than the twelve Apostles, who is mentioned in a significant way be each of the four gospel writers. Matthew talks about him. So does Mark, Luke and John. And that is actually quite unusual. Not only do they each mention John the Baptist. Each of them also agrees with John’s purpose which is to prepare the way of the Lord, to prepare people’s hearts and minds to meet Jesus.
Let’s listen to what Mark has to say about John in the first eight verses of his gospel. Mark 1:1-8 (NIV) says this:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” –
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
He is a key both as a theological and historical figure in the gospels because he bridges the gap between the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament promise. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.
John the Baptist looks and sounds like one of those outrageous Old Testament prophets. He travels around the countryside telling people to repent and return to God. He wears cloths made of camel hair when means that they were itchy and uncomfortable. He eats locusts and wild honey. This is rough and tumble character who demands to be heard. It’s not hard to picture him standing on hillside hair and beard blowing in the wind as he calls the people to repent of their sins.
But the amazing thing about John is that isn’t pointing to himself. No his message is pointed to someone who is more powerful than him, the straps of whose sandals he is not worthy to stoop down and untie.
John is the last in the long line of Old Testament prophets. His message, like the rest of the Old Testament prophets is one of repentance, of turning the people from their sin to follow God. But he also is pointing to something new, something different. He is, in fact, setting up the Jesus movement with its emphasis on God’s love which will eventually be demonstrated most profoundly in the cross and resurrection of Christ.
And so it is as though John has a foot in each world. One foot is in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets calling people to repent and return to God and the other foot is in New Testament promise of forgiveness and salvation by a God who loves us more than we can ever imagine.
John is preparing the way for something new, something radical and something life giving and life changing. And he is profoundly aware that the one who follows him is far greater than him in every way. So much so that John is not worthy even to untie his sandals.
PREPARING THE WAY
Preparing the way is a familiar theme during this Advent season. In our minds, of course, we are preparing the way for Christmas and so we see the lights going up on houses. People are decorating their Christmas trees. We got ours a couple of weeks ago at the Rotary Park when our grandchildren were here. It’s still lying on the front porch but I do intend to get it up in the living room sometime this weekend. We actually have most of our Christmas shopping done already. And most of it is wrapped in pretty paper. The baking has just started and we need to get to work on our Christmas cards. And while Covid-19 may be changing some of the ways we do things this year, it is not going to stop us from celebrating the birth of Jesus. The Christ child still shows up in Bethelehem and is laid in a manger. The shepherds still meet the angels on the hillside who announce the birth of the Messiah. And the wisemen still travel from the east following a star. Nothing is going to change that. And so we prepare.
That means that, in the midst of decorating our houses and purchasing our presents and sending out our Christmas cards, we also need to prepare our hearts for Jesus. That’s really what this Advent season is all about. People do that in various ways. Some people spend intentional time in prayer. Others find Advent devotional material in a booklet or online. Still others spend time during December helping out at various charities or community organizations. There are all kinds of things people can do to prepare their hearts for Jesus.
I want us to remember, however, that John didn’t just prepare himself to meet Jesus. He was in the business of preparing others to do the same thing. Everything that John did, pointed to Jesus. The way he portrayed himself as an Old Testament prophet pointed to Jesus. His preaching to the people pointed to Jesus. His call to repentance pointed to Jesus. The way he baptized others pointed to Jesus. Everything he did was for the sole purpose of being that voice calling in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight paths for him.
We are called to prepare our hearts for Jesus but, like John, we’re also called to lead others to Jesus so that they too can prepare their hearts to meet him. How do we do that? We do it by the way that we live, by the example that we set. We do that by allowing the light of Jesus that is within us shine out into the world to those around us.
Isn’t that what John did? He had within himself the light of Christ and he was inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit to let that light shine out from him into the lives of others. That’s all he was doing, just letting that light shine forth.
But I can almost hear you thinking now: “Pastor Kim, I can’t do that. I can’t do what John did. I can’t get up there on the rock in the middle of town and start preaching to people.” And you’re probably right. You probably shouldn’t do that but you’re welcome to try.
Think about this. John shone the light of Christ into the world in the way that God told him too. The reason that he what he did, the reason that he wore the clothes that he wore and ate the food that he ate and the reason he preached to all of those people and baptized them was because that was God’s call on his life.
Here’s the good news. We all have different callings, don’t we? We’re not all called to be preachers or teachers or evangelists. Some of us all called to do those things but not all of us are. But just because we aren’t called to share the light in those ways, does not mean that we are off the hook because God had called each of us to share the light of Christ in some way.
Leading worship on Sunday morning is one of the ways that I do it. I don’t know what you’re way is but God has given you the ability to share his light in some way. Maybe you are called to shine through the witness of your righteous and holy life. Maybe your called to shine by your acts of hospitality. Maybe you shine through your work with the community or through Scouting or Guides or the Rotary Club or the Legion. Maybe your gift is to connect with those who are lonely or sick or grieving. I don’t know what it is. You should. And if you don’t, maybe your task this Advent is to take it before God and try to figure it out. And when you figure it out, may I suggest that you write it down on a piece of paper and wrap it up in a little box and put it under the Christmas tree so that, on Christmas morning, when you unwrap your presents, you can open up that box and remind yourself of the way that God has given you to share his light and help prepare others to meet Jesus. I know that might sound just a little bit corny but it might just be the best gift you get this Christmas. During Advent we are called to prepare our hearts to meet Jesus and we also called to help others to do the same thing.
Today, in this worship we are actually doing something else to prepare people to meet Jesus. It’s called the sacraments. It’s not often that we have both baptism and communion on the same Sunday but this is one of those days. These are the two sacraments that most Protestant Churches recognize and, in them, we prepare our hearts in very special ways to meet Jesus.
So why are we doing both today? It’s sort of the way it worked out and, on reflection, perhaps that’s the way that God planned it. We generally celebrate communion on the first Sunday of the month and this, after all, is the first Sunday or the month so that’s not unusual. During communion we remember that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of our sins and that he rose again on the third day to break the chains of sin and the gates of hell so that all who believe in Jesus will be given the gift of eternal life.
But why baptism today also? Stephanie and Steve have been talking about having James baptized for a while now. When we finally got together and talked about, they asked if December 6 would be a good date. It seemed fine to me and so we planned to be here today. What I didn’t know at the time is that the gospel reading for today in the lectionary is the story of John the Baptist. The roots of Christian baptism, of course, are traced right back to John in the Bible and so maybe God had a hand in choosing today to baptize James. As you should know, I don’t believe in coincidences. I think God had this all planned out.
The thing about both baptism and communion is that, before we celebrate them, we should do some preparation. Let’s look at baptism. And we don’t do it lightly. We prepare for it. Whenever we have a request for baptism I always spend an evening with family and we talk about what baptism is. I asked Stephanie and Steve why they wanted to have James baptized. When I ask that question of parents, I get all kinds of answers and they are usually really good answers which means that the parents are taking this seriously. And then we talk about what baptism is in the eyes of the church, how it is a way of giving thanks for a new life and how it is way of welcoming someone into the church. Nothing magical happens during baptism. It is not a ticket to heaven. It is not an assurance of salvation. But it is often the first step on the journey of faith that leads to God. This is preparation to meet Jesus.
As far as communion goes, we should not participate in it thoughtlessly. It’s not something we do just because it’s there. We don’t do it by rote or out of habit. This is important. We need to think about it. We need to think about what Jesus did on the cross. We need to think about how he gave up his life willingly to pay the price of our sins. We need to think about the suffering that he took upon himself so that we wouldn’t have to. This isn’t something that we do lightly just because it’s the first Sunday of the month. It’s something that we do because it means something important to us and we need to take it very, very seriously.
We need to ask ourselves if we are worthy to receive the elements of communion, the bread and the cup. And, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we need to confess that, no, we are not worthy. In fact, we are anything but worthy. We might even be about as far from worthy as it is possible to be. But then we realize that it’s not because we are worthy that we are able to come to receive the elements. That’s because none of us is worthy for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are not worthy but that doesn’t matter because, even though we are not worthy, the overwhelming grace of God calls us and compels us to eat this bread and drink this cup to remember all that Jesus did for us. This is preparation for meet Jesus.
This is a time to prepare to meet Jesus. John said that he would baptize with water but the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. What John was talking about was that his role was to lead others to Christ. That’s our role too. But we don’t change lives. That is what Jesus does by the power of his Holy Spirit. My prayer is that, through the Holy Spirit, your lives will be transformed this Christmas season as well.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you on this second Sunday of Advent, ready to prepare our lives for your return. You came to us once in the Child of Bethlehem. We look forward to the day when you will fulfill the Kingdom that you began on earth during your walk with us. When we look around at the beauty of Creation, we cannot doubt your presence. As your glory fills the skies, may your love fill our hearts.
We are thankful for your amazing compassion. You came to rescue us from our need and to set our feet upon the path of peace. We ask that you enable us to share that same compassion with those in this world who are in need. Prepare and equip us to work for your harvest for this generation. Help us to freely give as we have freely received from you.
We remember in this Advent season those for whom Christmas will be a difficult time. There are those who have lost loved ones this past year. Relationships have been broken. Health issues have arisen. Enable us to support those who feel these loses in their times of need. If the joy of the Christmas season cannot be shared by everyone, then at least let us rejoice that God has come among us in a tiny child laid in a manger. Through faith in him, we can overcome our grief and find the healing that we desire.
We remember the sick of our congregation and community and pray, especially, for Sharon, Don, Helen, Lyle and Jim. Grant healing and peace, O God of the Living.
Help us, O God, to recognize and seize every opportunity to share the message of Jesus Christ in every possible way. May we never forget that sharing this message of hope and forgiveness is not only a privilege, but also a command. As the Good News is shared, may your love abound, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 6, 2020 / Advent 2
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8; 2 Peter 3:8-15
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: There’s a voice in the wilderness crying;
ALL: “Prepare the way for the Lord.”
ONE: Let us ready our hearts for God’s Anointed One.
ALL: Let us prepare our minds for the Holy One of Israel.
ONE: Let us proclaim the One who comes to us in humility;
ALL: Praise be to God, who lives within in Christ Jesus.
God of Advent, we come before you in this season to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child of Bethlehem. Reveal to us the things that matter the most. Make us wise in the things of the Spirit. Your love is strong and your hand is gentle. Straighten the road that runs before us. Guide us into your way and set our feet upon the rock solid ground of faith. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Our Advent preparation is rooted in our repentance. How often we have turned from your path. We have acted with power against our sisters and brothers. Like lions, we have pounced upon the lamb. Like bears, we have hunted the calves. But you call us with a different vision. Encourage us, God of Compassion, to see a world where lions and sheep rest together, where cattle and sheep feed in the same field. We confess our short_sightedness and seek your forgiveness. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God’s promises are dependable. God’s mercy is sure. When we confess our sins and lay them at the feet of the Holy Child of Bethlehem we are cleansed by the Spirit of new life and healing. Be assured that our sins are forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
You came to us, Almighty God, in the form of a Child. You gave all that you had for us and for our salvation. These gifts are symbols of our thanksgiving. More than that, they are signs of the hope that you have placed within us. Bless these gifts as you have bless us. Amen.
The Good News cannot be kept to ourselves. It calls us to share the Gospel of Christ with all Creation. As we leave, may the blessings of Christ surround us and give us peace.