Sunday, December 13, 2009

"You brood of vipers!"

On the Third Sunday of Advent, we have our children's pageant at the 10 am worship service. This is my sermon from the 8 am service. It is taken from Luke 3:7-18.

“You brood of vipers!”

There, I have always wanted to say that. It feels pretty good.

Today we make the acquaintance again of John the Baptist, that pleasant fellow who is definitely not jolly old Saint Nick. John wears clothing made of camel’s hair and he has a leather belt and he eats insects.

Although his name is “John the Baptist,” he is not a Southern Baptist or an American Baptist or any other kind of modern Baptist. He might better be called “John the Baptizer” because that is what he does; he stands in the river baptizing people.

But before we completely dismiss John the Baptizer as someone who comes off as, well, a bit unhinged and has trouble translating into the 21st century, I’d like to point out something remarkable about John Baptizer.

There is something about this John the Baptizer that draws people to him. The gospel of Luke today tells us that crowds of people came looking for him. The crowds come looking for something better; I would venture the crowds long for an encounter with the holy. And they are willing to walk a very long distance to find this holy man standing in a river in the desert.

Something very, very powerful is happening with John the Baptizer, and the crowds have come from far and wide to be part of it.

Those people may dress and speak differently than we do. But I would also guess they have much in common with us. They have experienced the ups and downs of life, and they are searching for the same things we are, and they probably walked for days to reach the river Jordan and John the baptizer.

When they get there, they want to know something: Are you the messiah?

But John surprises them; he tells the crowds: You are asking the wrong question.
The messiah is coming, he says. But you haven’t asked the right question.

The right question is: What will you do in the certain knowledge the messiah is coming?

He tells the people to get right with God. And to get right with God, you must get right with each other. Feed the poor, make sure no one goes hungry. Give away your extra coat, make sure no one goes cold. Those of you with much, don’t complain you don’t have enough. Give some of it away.

Get right with each other, and when you do you will be ready to see the Messiah coming among you.

John uses a word very unfashionable in our world: he tells people to repent.

The word “repent” means to “turn around,” and that is the great and wonderful irony of this story.

John the baptizer tells the people, who have come so far, that they really did not have to travel so far to find what they sought. All they need do is turn around and go home to see God.

But before they go, John the Baptizer washes them – baptizes them – in the river as a symbol that their life has begun new again, that it is never too late for anyone to see and experience God, that it is never too late to answer God’s call to serve each other.

John steps into the river of people and tells them – and us to repent – how to turn back to God:
By being awake, looking for God around you and listening to the Holy Spirit at work in your life, and then doing something with that experience by acting right with each other.

And then he tells them the Messiah is coming. And for us, the Messiah -- Christ Jesus -- has already come, and is here. But perhaps we still do not see.

I would like to think all of this has something to do with this color blue of Advent, the color of the sky before the dawn.

Have you ever noticed something else about the pre-dawn sky? It is the time when it is hardest to see anything. Think of the world where we live as the pre-dawn sky – it is sometimes so very hard to see God in our surroundings.

In the days ahead, look and listen for God all around you. What you seek is already with you.
John the baptizer gives each of us the message of Advent: Be awake. You really don’t have to travel far to find what you seek. Look for the dawn of Christ’s light here, today, and in the days ahead. Amen.

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