Sunday, December 11, 2011

Down by the riverside the people come from far and wide

Today at the 10 am worship service we have our wonderful children's Advent-Christmas Pageant (and no sermon!).

Albrecht von Gaudecker and a great group of kids have worked long and hard to bring this season's pageant, so I hope you will come if you are in the area.

I am preaching at the 8 am worship. The lessons for today are Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11Psalm 126 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 and John 1:6-8, 19-28. Here in my sermon:

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Today we make the acquaintance once again of John the Baptist, that pleasant fellow who is definitely not jolly old Saint Nick. John the Baptist, as you know, 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 has trouble translating into the 21st century, I’d like to point out something remarkable about John Baptizer:
John the Baptizer draws people to him – many, many people from far and wide. 
In Mark’s gospel mentioned last week, that all the people of Jerusalem and all the people of the Judean countryside come to John the Baptizer. 
This week we get the version in John’s gospel. Not only do the common people come to him, the Temple authorities are so thoroughly perplexed they sent emissaries to question him, and they wonder if he is the messiah, or maybe the prophet Elijah. 
John the Baptizer has captivated all Israel, from the bottom up. 
That is an amazing fact. The gospels are saying, not so subtly, that the people of Israel are having trouble seeing the holy in the holy city.

People are having trouble finding the holy in their homes and work, and they wonder if the holy can be found outside their regular modes of organized religion. 
Maybe that has a ring of familiarity for us? 
And then these ancient people are willing to walk a very long distance to find this holy man standing waist-deep in a muddy river in the desert. 
Something very, very powerful is happening with John the Baptizer, and all the people of Judea have come from far and wide to experience it. 

These people long ago 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 find this John the Baptizer. 
When they get there, John tells them something extraordinary: What you seek is with you already. Look up, open your eyes, God is everywhere and was with you all along.
The word repent means to “turn around,” and that is the great and wonderful irony of this story. 

People walk miles into the desert to find what they had all along. Turn around, see what has always been with you. 
John the baptizer tells the people, who have come so very far, that all they really needed to do is turn around to see God. 

The Holy was with them all along and never had left them, even when life looked bleakest. John declares the same good news that comes from the prophet Isaiah:
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted.” 
Then John the Baptizer washes the people – baptizes them – in the river as a symbol that their life has begun new again, that it is never too late to see and experience God. 
And John tells them something more remarkable, that God will soon walk among them as a human being, as the One who will wash them in Holy Spirit.

“I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 
How will we know this? 

By being awake in this time of Advent before the dawn. 
John the Baptizer is still standing in the river, telling us to sharpen our eyes and ears. Look and listen for God all around you. What you seek is already with you. The One who comes is already here, and is washing you in holy spirit,

Be awake. You really don’t have to travel far to find what you seek. Look for the dawn of Christ’s light in life, and in everyone you meet, today, and in the days to come.

Photograph above of the Jordan River Valley, courtesy of GLOWA, an international research project working on maintaining sustainable water resources in Jordan River region.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great morning at St. Paul's!