Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Perhaps in many ways humans are naturally optimistic. We like to think that something good is bound to come our way, that tomorrow holds a promise, and a greater hope is on the horizon. When the college football season is starting, we like to think that our team will go undefeated and win a national championship, but perhaps I shouldn’t talk about that. Well maybe. We do have a few Alabama fans around. Still for those of us that did not make it to a national championship game, there is always next year. Right.
Coming Soon! — next year will be the year –maybe. We are creatures of anticipation. Consider our scriptures. We read that the people were filled with expectation. They were thinking that perhaps John might be the messiah. Now sometimes we might think them odd. There were about 400 years between the Old Testament and New Testament. The prophet Isaiah was about 700 years before Jesus. Why would anyone venture out into the wilderness to hear a preacher proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand, and expect that the Messiah was coming in their lifetime?
Yet, if you consider in our day and age there are always those who anticipate the 2nd coming of Christ, or the end of the world. Even though it is close to 2000 years since Jesus ascended. One can always go online and ask when the end of the world will be. There you will find a long list of past dates when people predicted the end was to come and a list of future dates telling you to beware. A couple of my favorites: One was in 2012. Some dusty old Mayan carvings ran out of rock space in Central America, and people got worried that the end was near. The Mayan calendar was ending and some figured that the world was going to end too. Well we are still here, and then there is the Geological Society that predicts in a million years the Earth will endure another super volcanic eruption that will create a darkened and cold climate for decades and like lead to a mass extinction event. We probably should watch out for that one. Geologically, Yellowstone is one of these massive volcanoes and it is overdue for such an event. One website reports that there are six active super volcanoes in our world today with the ability to cause an extinction level event.
Indeed, we are not much different then the people of Jesus day. We too live according to expectations and anticipations about what is coming soon, but here is an important difference. In Jesus time the anticipation was not for an end, but for a new beginning. They were not waiting for the night to fall but for a new day to be born. There anticipation was for the coming of a new King, sent by God to bring them freedom from their enemies, justice for the poor and powerless, and to restore the worship of God in truth and in Spirit. I think that during the first century in particular the people were filled with a hopeful anticipation that God was about to do something new. When they went out into the wilderness to listen to John, John had a way of making this possibility seem all that much more real.
John taught the people about mercy and justice. He said if you have two coats give one away to the person who has none. Treat people fairly and honestly. Don’t misuse your authority over others and be content with what you have. This was John’s preaching about what God wanted. John also criticized the civil and religious leaders of his day for not living up to the commandments of God. He called the religious leaders a brood of vipers, and he harangued Herod about marrying his brother’s wife. John pointed out the difference between Herod’s desire to appear as a person of faith, and his willingness to live contrary to the rules of his faith. This cast Herod in a negative light among the people. It made the king look like a hypocrite and it placed John in a position of danger. John seemed similar what people hoped the messiah would be, and so the people began to ask are you the one? Is John God’s Messiah? Is he the one we are anticipating?
Of course, John’s response was to say that he was not the messiah. John said, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John described Jesus as coming to bring change, the judgment of God, purification, and dedication within the lives of individuals. This is the power of the Spirit and the fire of God. John’s role was to prepare the people, but Jesus was going to change people’s lives.
This is the good news for today. The good which we may anticipate for our new day has come to pass. It turns out that our optimism and our hope for the future are not misplaced, but these things are indeed God’s desire for our lives. In Christ God brings the extraordinary into the ordinary. The Scriptures tell us that everyone was baptized and then Jesus was baptized and when Jesus was baptized, the heaven’s opened, the Spirit of God descended in bodily form as a dove and landed on Jesus, and a voice was heard that declared Jesus to be the son of God in whom God was well pleased. Perhaps not since creation itself did God look upon our world and find God’s self well pleased. That which was foretold and announce as coming soon arrived on that day and it did not bring a close to the age of humankind, but a hopeful new beginning. In Christ, God has come to be present within or world and within our lives. God has come not to bring death and destruction, or the end of all things, but rather to split the left from the right and to usher in the precious gift of new life to all who might respond.
What is it that you are hoping for in this New Year? What is coming soon into your life? You know what? We have every reason to be hopeful. We do not need to fear the future, because God’s word speaks life and light into our world. Sometimes we may worry about money issues. Where will our budget be in the coming year? We can worry about health issues. Will we ever see the end of this pandemic that has put its mark on every part of life? We may worry about the well being of family members, or about our relationships. There is a whole host of everyday problems that people face and all of us at one time or another are subject to the imperfections and trials of this life. Some days we may feel like we are just pushing ourselves along from one day to the next, but let us not forget that God is with us. Indeed, God has come and we are blessed according to the Spirit and promise of this day of salvation that God has established in our world. We are not alone but God is with us in the sunlight and in the shadows.
When Jesus came, he was baptized. Sometimes we ask the question, “Why was Jesus baptized for the remission of sins when he was without sin?” Part of that answer can be as simple as understanding that Jesus came to share in our lives. He was baptized as we are called to be baptized. He lived as we lived, and he died for our sakes, taking upon himself the death that rightfully should have been ours. In return for this we receive grace and eternal life. From the beginning Jesus identified himself with sinful humanity that he might give us life in return. No matter what the world may throw at us that is what is coming soon for us. When we baptize a newborn baby, we are declaring this truth of God’s that has already been poured out upon us. As Jesus connected himself to our lives, in baptism we connect ourselves to his life, and the eternal grace that sustains us. The hopeful fulfillment of our expectations is always to found in Christ. We are empowered by faith to live a new life. This image of Jesus baptism tells us that we are not alone. We just need to avail ourselves to the life that is ours in Christ.
There is an old-time story about the great revivals and how preachers used to come around and preach down by the river. After they were done preaching, they would call upon the people to come forward and be baptized. Well, this story goes that there was one old fellow in the crowd and he was notorious for living an unchanged life. Yet every time a preacher would give the call, he would go forward to be baptized with his hands in the air saying, “Fill me Lord, Fill me.” And then he would immediately go back to living the same poor example of a life. Finally, after one more preacher came around and gave the usual call for baptism, the man raised his hands and marched down to the river saying, “Fill me Lord, Fill me.” Well, someone from the crowd had heard and seen enough and a voice was heard to call out, “Don’t do it Lord, he leaks!”
There is the common and then there is the extraordinary. In Christ you are part of the extraordinary. We don’t have to be leaky Christians. Hold on to the faith and hope that you have been given. I encourage you to anticipate being blessed in this New Year. Look forward to what is coming soon. Jesus has come to share in your life and bring you life in his name. Practice living boldly. The Christian’s future is hopeful. We are not buried in a dark horizon, but we have been given the dawn of a new day. Amen.