St. John's, Centreville
December 10, 2017
Advent 2 B
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When I was a senior in high school, in 1972, our senior class trip was to go to Boston and see the musical "Godspell". The opening song is "Prepare ye the way of the Lord". Eight or nine actors are at the back of the stage singing about their ideology - the philosophy of Plato or Socrates, capitalism or communism. Then they all begin to sing at the same time in a cacophony of confusion. It is unsettling because you can't hear any one person. You don't know what ideology to listen to. Then John the Baptist comes down the center aisle, sprinkling water on those around him, and breaking into song: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." And all the other singers top and listen. There is a new way to live, John the Baptist tells them, a better way. There is someone who is coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. Prepare yourselves for his coming. Repent of your sinful ways.
John the Baptist was an unusual man. He lived in the wilderness, dressed in camels' hair, and ate locusts and wild honey - not exactly the type you would invite home for dinner. And to this strange individual comes the Word of God, the one to prepare the way for Jesus - not to the Pharisees or others in the religious hierarchy, but to John the Baptist
People come long distances to hear John the Baptist preach. It's not like he is preaching on a street corner that is easy to get to. He is out in the wilderness, miles from anywhere. So why do people travel so far to hear this strange man? Because they need to hear what he has to say. They need to hear about repentance and forgiveness. They want their lives to change.
So they go out into the wilderness not only to hear John the Baptist, but to be baptized by him. Why? To repent of their sins and start a new life. But John the Baptist says to them, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
John the Baptist knew what role he was to play - to get people ready to meet the Messiah; to prepare them for a life changing encounter with Jesus and then step out of the way. He knew that Jesus was much more powerful than he. In the verses following what we read this morning, Jesus is baptized by John, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove. And a voice from heaven says, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." In the gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist tells Jesus that Jesus should be baptizing him, not the other way around. But Jesus says, "Let it be so now". In other words, let's do it this way for now and as Jesus is baptized, the voice from heaven speaks.
Jesus allows himself to be baptized by John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. This is the start of Jesus' public ministry. Jesus needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit for strength and direction as he goes into the wilderness for 40 days and is tempted by Satan. He needs the Holy Spirit as he begins his public ministry.
Holy Baptism is one of the two essential sacraments of our church, the other one being the Holy Eucharist. It is these two sacraments that Episcopalians believe are essential for all Christians. Baptism makes us members of Christ's body, the church and heirs of God's eternal kingdom. Now that is NOT to say that those who are not baptized will not have eternal life with God. Because we do not know the mind of God. But we do know that God is a loving and gracious and forgiving God and wants all of us to be with God in eternity.
Baptism is a covenant that God makes with us and we make with God. Although God will never break God's covenant with us, we, because of our humanness, will fall into sin and break our covenant time and time again. But we are then invited to repent of our sins and turn our lives in a new direction, a direction that gives our whole lives to God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God guides us and directs us to the fulfilling of God's will. But we must be attentive and listening.
Because we live in a world that is filled with sin and evil, as baptized Christians, we need to have our strength and commitment to God renewed and restored. That is why it is important for us to gather weekly for the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, to be filled again with God's holy and life-giving spirit, to remember who and whose we are. When we live into the life we have as followers of Jesus Christ, we can more easily see God's work in this world, we can see the good in the world, and what role we are to play for the furthering of God's kingdom.
This morning, we have the privilege of witnessing the baptism of Sam Cameron, an adult who has made the decision to become an active member of Christ's body, the church. As we participate in this service of baptism, we all will have the opportunity to renew our own baptismal covenant, to remember what vows were made for us at our baptism, if we were baptized as infants, by our parents and godparents, and the vows we reaffirmed and took on for ourselves at our Confirmation.
John the Baptist invites us to prepare the way of the Lord and to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah. As we welcome Sam into the Body of Christ by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and by reaffirming our own baptismal covenant, may we live into our baptismal vows and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ child. Amen.