Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“It Is Time!”
Luke 3:3-6, December 6th 2015, 2015
After today, there are less than three weeks before Christmas, so let’s talk about how to get the important stuff done! First, turn down your radio and shut off all your social media devices, and stop reading only the headlines on the Google news website. Adapt and adjust yourself to better information! Today is the day! It is time to do this God’s way! So let’s get started! There is a host of things that need doing, so let us look for clues and clarity about how we are to proceed!
As we begin to see more clearly the pathway of God’s choosing let us begin to visualize a new setting. Today’s scripture lesson takes us to the scene of John the Baptist, proclaiming the need for a cleansing baptism! So let us begin to picture: exactly what do we see, as we begin to image ourselves in the presence of this man! He lived in the wilderness and practiced his ministry at the River Jordon, near the Dead Sea. He existed on a sparse diet, and so did his disciples. “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” /Mark 1:6/
There are two primary times that we see, and truly visualize, this man in scriptures. The first is here at the River Jordan preaching with great passion and urgently about preparing the way for Jesus: 7He proclaimed, “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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” /Mark 1:7-8/ John continued on loudly advocating that they, and all of us, are to prepare by responding to his call to repentance! “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” /Matthew 3: 2/ The second time John takes center stage is when Jesus comes to him at the river to be baptized. 9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. /Mark 1:9/
During the in-between times of John’s ministry we hear him confront the religious leaders, who came down to the Jordan River to observe his ceremonies of baptism. “Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you… Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” /Matthew 3: 5-10/ John is clearly telling them, and his words still are applicable in our lives today, if you don’t back up your repentance with a solid ‘turn around’ in how you live your lives, including how you treat others with integrity, respect and justice, then watch out!
One of the last written documents, about this salty out spoken man, comes from his disciples while he was in prison. “When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” /Matthew 11: 2-6/ John seemed to know his place in God’s plan, but he was checking his instincts and asking for confirmation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, whom he had been telling his followers was to come.
After John had been dragged off to prison Jesus spoke about him to his disciples and the crowds. Jesus questions the gathered about who they had thought John was, and then he goes on to tell them the answer. He begins by using sarcasm to grab their attention. “As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you.’ /Malachi 3:1a/ Jesus, with great eloquence raises up this messenger of God, praising him.
What an interesting man this John the Baptist must have been! A homeless poorly dressed man who lived out in the wilderness. Jesus proclaims this tough wild man, with the tongue of fire, a prophet; spoken of by the prophets! Jesus praises John and even compares him to Elijah! Yet, we must not forget: this was not a man with any power in society or prominent position bestowed upon him by the religious leaders of the day. This man was only compelled by his faith and belief, and it would appear by the Spirit of God! Furthermore, it seems clear that the prophets before him and Jesus himself, declare that he came to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Christ Child, Jesus the Son of God!
Have you asked yourself why there is this focus on seeking forgiveness just before Christmas? Are there truly modern Christians who are guilty of sins that keep them from their relationships with God? Consider these facts: we live in a world where terrorism flourishes and where mass shootings are on the rise, especially here in our beloved United States of America! Politicians pursue the topics of gun control and health care as political footballs! Advent and Christmas offers us a perfect time to be reminded who sets the standards of good and evil, right verses wrong. Let us be clear about the universal understandings of these crucial points of ethics and human decency!
Humankind portrays sinfulness primarily at its harshest levels: human degradation and murder, all levels of theft and dishonesty, even the disgrace and betrayal of adultery. Yet, sin, for the average person, particularly those of us actively practicing a religion, for the majority of us, it is a very allusive term. It may be better for us to consider using a reference to our short comings, or handicaps and faults, in this discussion. You see, most of us are guilty of a least a few things that cause us to stumble: fear, fear of change, fear of making a mistake, even the fear of the pending future. How many are guilty of trying to please, and be acceptable to others? Perhaps your issue is the tendency to procrastinate. Surely, no one here has an acquaintance with guilt or shame, tied to the past or to an unquenchable desire to take revenge? John the Baptist and Jesus are telling you, telling us: it is time to stop pretending these things don’t matter, or that they are not defiant to the will of God!
We must challenge ourselves: are we only listening to those whom society has deemed powerful? There are many, like John the Baptist, that do not have power in the eyes of the world, yet many have power bestowed upon them within the realm of God’s kingdom here on earth, power from and within the spiritual realm; a spiritual sphere that many believe is very evident in our modern world. Who is it that you listen to? Who is it that has all the power in your life, in your community, in this our country? Is it the elected officials or is it the people who have the power? Is it your boss or is it a second or third tier secretary at your place of work? Is it the leader of your church or is it a quiet elder that sits way in the back, unnoticed by most? Is it your financial advisor or your spiritual advisor? Is it your spouse or is it one of the children? Work on the answer for yourself, it may clear up some of your misunderstandings about power; power that affirms, verses power that represses and or disheartens, or at least minimizes while confusing your relationship with God.
Here we have the life of a homeless man, lifted up to us, as a power of example, modeling for all to see the power of God that can be bestowed upon any one of us, no matter our position in life! And what was his message: prepare yourself by repenting of your sinfulness! Unquestionably, at a time such as this, we ought to be ready to try something new! At the very least, we ought to be willing to consider investigating something new; a new approach, a new commitment to our spiritual life, or, perhaps, a new determination to get more involved in the things that really matter in our lives. Things like taking on a committed role, becoming an active participant in the realm of forgiveness; forgiveness for ourselves and our forgiveness of others will bring us closer to God and give us peace. It was good enough for John the Baptist to totally devout his life to urging us, and anyone who would truly hear and receive his message, to actively seek forgiveness. John’s commitment to fulfil his calling from God, ultimately threw him into jail, a jail controlled by the powerful leaders of the society in which he lived! It was important enough for Jesus to sacrifice himself so that we might be freed from our debts and, in due course, find our way into heaven.
It is time to listen to the likes of John the Baptist, and others that do not often get put into center stage in our social realm. Let us at least get honest with ourselves about areas of our lives that need repair. Seek forgiveness if needed. Then as we prepare for the annual Christmas celebration and rituals, our hearts will be freer and unrestricted, thus we shall become more spontaneous with our out-pouring of love. There is even hope, hope that we shall find peace by forgiving someone in our life, someone that is sorely in need of it.
We are in the midst of the season of Advent. As this season in which we have entered progresses, we are encouraged to make time, for it is time, to clear away anything that will hold us back from being filled with a true sense of peace, as we close in on our annual Christmas celebration!
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament, the Gospel according to Luke, chapter:3, verses: 3-6”
“John the Baptist, he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 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. 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; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
“Allow God to open the eyes of your heart to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”