Many thanks and much love to my friend Allison from Seven Arches Photography for these photos. Not only does she consistently make us look like we came straight from an Old Navy ad, she’s also one of my favorite friends.
Luke 3:1-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip rulerof the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias rulerof Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Sermon: The Candle
Key Point: Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival.
Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. Do you have company coming in the next few weeks? Or are you the company that other people will be hosting? The holidays are upon us, and for many people, this means getting ready for the arrival of company.
And what do we do when we know that company is coming? (pause)
We clean the house! On top of all of the other things we try to accomplish between now and Christmas, if we have company coming, it’s time to get the house ready. Now, I know some of you may have a house that is sparkling clean all of the time…If you’ve come to visit, and my house was sparkling clean, you can safely guess that was only because I knew were coming and I made sure the house was clean before you got there.
From time to time, I get a question that usually goes something like, “With both parents working full time and having four kids, especially with three involved in sports, how do you do it? How do you keep up with everything?” And so I debated about putting this extra secret information out here. But, here’s the answer to the question I get asked all of the time,
In spite of the image I try to put out there, the answer isn’t that I put on my superhero cape and whisk through it all without breaking a sweat…I don’t do it alone, we sometimes hire help. A couple times a month we have a cleaning crew come in and help us get everything really clean.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up with having this kind of pampering, so I feel a little self-conscious sharing about it. Because I didn’t grow up with this, there was something I didn’t know about having a cleaning service. My kids can probably tell you because they are heavily involved in this part.
When Irene and the rest of the cleaning crew is coming, the day before it’s all hands on deck to have everything picked up so that the crew can do their jobs of scrubbing and cleaning.
We clean up the house just to prepare the way for the cleaning crew. I never expected I’d ever use this as a sermon illustration!
(Slide Change: Picture of John the Baptist circa 1600)
You see, strangely enough, this brings us to our scripture for the day about another person getting ready for company, although not in the same way we were thinking.
John the Baptist, sometimes called John the Baptizer – now he’s quite a character, isn’t he?
The various gospels describe him as a man who is shouting out in the wilderness, he lives alone. I like this painting because he’s pointing to Jesus – that’s a big part of John’s role. He is found wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, eating locusts and honey – he’s wild and eccentric.
He’s a relative of Jesus, possibly a cousin, and I imagine him like a pretty out there hippie cousin. Maybe you have a relative like this too.
(Slide Change: Jen Norton John the Baptist -used with permission from artist)
I imagine him with crazy hair, a bit of an oddball who maybe smells like the wild and nature. You can smell him coming. “A smellative” Do you have one of those? Know what I’m talking about? You don’t – is it you? J
He’s a prophet, not afraid to say what needs to be said. Maybe you have relatives like him who apparently are unafraid to speak passionately about whatever is on their mind? No? Maybe you’re that relative? (Smile)
So in this story, John is preparing the way for Jesus to start his ministry. We tell this story at Christmas time because Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. It’s like he’s getting the house ready so Jesus can come in and do the real, deep spiritual work.
So let’s set the scene: In this story, God’s people have become pretty comfortable and complacent…If we kept reading in today’s chapter, we’d see that John calls the crowds “children of snakes,” and warns them to repent, be baptized and have their lives changed. It seems he is a bit of a wet blanket.
Now I imagine few people ever want a sermon on repentance – it’s like being scolded for all the bad things you’ve been doing and being told to knock it off.
(SLIDE CHANGE- Repent & be baptized meme)
John’s message to “Repent & Be Baptized” includes two parts – a “no,” and a “yes.”
Repentance is the “no.” Repentance isn’t a word we use in everyday language, so I’ll explain it. To repent is to turn the other way. We all make mistakes and have regrets, when we repent we turn from sin and move toward making things right. You can think of repentance as a big “U-Turn” sign on your life.
It’s worth pointing out that the people in the crowd John was talking to weren’t caught up in big sins, causing trouble. Their biggest problem was that they were beginning to be settled in their faith, just resting on the fact that they were “born” into the faith & just going through the motions of faith. For me, this description hits a little too close to home. It’s tempting to sometimes claim the identity of “Christian” and then not think much about it.
The problem is that being a Christian isn’t always supposed to be comfortable, feel-good stuff. We are not called to a comfortable, lukewarm, safe faith.
John knows that when Jesus starts his ministry, people will have to have a deep faith. Jesus is going to start a new world order. So John’s call here to repent is designed to make us uncomfortable when we want comfort. We need to turn from ways that keep us from God.
We talked last week about how Advent is the in-between time – it’s a time for reflection on things that have already happened, and preparation for things yet to come. Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. It’s a time for cleaning up our spiritual house, so to speak. We can use this time to consider the condition of the world, even consider our own wrongdoing and regrets. We can reflect on what we’ve said and done (or perhaps what we have not said, not done) to make the world a better place. John the Baptist makes the way for Jesus’ ministry – this morning we will consider how we can prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival too.
Repentance means asking ourselves tough questions like “How deep is my faith? (pause) Are my actions in line with my beliefs? (pause) Is my faith expectant, alert, growing, and serving? (pause) Or is my faith small, tired and lukewarm? (pause)
John is preparing the house, getting ready for company. When Jesus arrives, we can’t have legos and dirty socks on the floor – we need to be ready.
But we’re not left in the dark feeling sorry for ourselves –there is a second part to John’s message that’s really important.
The Be Baptized part – the life as a follower of Jesus – it’s a “Yes!” It’s not that John is trying to bring us down by telling people to repent, he’s trying to direct us to a new life that is richer, fuller and more meaningful.
To have a life of richer faith, it begins with discerning what actions you need to take.
What gifts/resources do you have? What is on your heart to do for God? Do you know you are forgiven? What are you passionate about? Inlight of your gifts and resources, what is your mission?
Once you have come up with answers to these questions, you are preparing the way for a life of following Christ.
Advent is more than just a time to make sure all of the toys and presents are bought and delivered on time – it’s so much deeper than that! Advent, as the beginning of the Christian new year, is a perfect time to make a fresh start and prepare for what God has in store.
Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. Advent reminds us – we have an adventure ahead. We need a light to our path on this adventure.
(Slide Change: luminarias)
Which brings us back to the symbol of the Candle at Christmastime.
It’s important that we turn to the right sources of light as we go on this faith journey. When we light a match in a dark room, it provides a temporary light. If we try to be the match for too long, our fingers get burnt. We also don’t want to turn to the wrong sources of light – if we put our trust in the wrong things, they will eventually disappoint us.
The candle is a symbol that reminds us of Christ.
Christ is a light that will overcome any darkness.
The candle can also symbolize God’s word found in the Bible, is “a light unto the path,” a guide that helps us to see on the journey of faith. It’s not a candle in the wind about to get extinguished.
When I was a small kid living in San Antonio atChristmastime, I remember seeing much of the city sidewalks, especially around churches, lined with luminarias –simple brown paper bags, each filled with a little sand and a small candle.
Paths lined with candlelight, a tradition started in the AmericanSouthwest, is a beautiful practice reminding us of the fabled journey of Joseph, a very pregnant Mary, and a simple donkey taken long ago. The light of the luminaria shows us the prepared path.The decoration is simple in the face of all that glitters, flashes, inflates and twinkles to music today, just as the simplicity of their journey toBethlehem is a stark contrast to the decadent and powerful Rome that ruled the day.
As we prepare the way for company, as we prepare the way for the coming Jesus Christ, we can take heart in knowing that
John 1:4 “Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
Let us pray –
God of Light,
Thank you for being a God who is faithful to show us the way of life. As we prepare for the arrival of Jesus Christ in our hearts and in our lives, be a light unto our paths this Advent. Help us to share the light of the love of Jesus Christ with people who need it. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.