The Blue Mountains Franciscan Church in the Care of the Ecumenical Franciscans
Sermon Preached at Springwood by Br Simeon Efo on Sunday 6th December 2015
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT. YR C.
Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
May I speak in the Name of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
John the Baptist was a bit of a rebel. Responding to a calling from God he came in from the wilderness and began to preach a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luke names a list of rulers who probably wouldn’t have been happy with this scruffy looking prophet from the desert coming to the people and trying to put things right, especially if they thought that the one who was coming would take over their leadership from them.
Yet he came proclaiming boldly, “to prepare the way of the Lord; to make his paths straight”, this is the message of the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist is here to put it into practice. Times are about to change people, hear ye, hear ye! The mountains are about to move, the whole landscape will change, crooked will become straight and rough will become smooth. But most importantly, all flesh will see the salvation of God.
So important is the emergence of John the Baptiser in human history that Luke dates his appearance in six different ways. In his Gospel, Luke introduces John as prophets were introduced in the First Testament (“the word of God was spoken to John son of Zechariah in the desert”). As does Matthew and Mark, Luke cites the famous passage from Isaiah regarding “a herald’s voice in the desert” to describe the Baptiser’s mission — but Luke quotes more of the Isaiah prophecy than his synoptic counterparts, including the promise of universal salvation that is so central to Luke’s Gospel.
Forms of “baptism” were common in the Judaism of Gospel times and toward the beginning of the Christian era, Jews adopted the custom of baptizing proselytes seven days after their circumcision. 1 . But John’s baptism was distinctive. His baptism at the Jordan was a rite of repentance and metanoia — a conversion of heart and spirit. The Baptiser’s ministry fulfilled the promise of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36: 25-26): that, at the dawn of a new age, the God of Israel would purify his people from their sins with clean water and instill in them a new heart and spirit.
In his book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Community, theologian Ronald Rolheiser writes about the two baptisms John speaks of in today’s Gospel: “John’s baptism is only a preparation for Jesus’ baptism. What’s John’s baptism? It is a baptism of repentance, a realisation of what we are doing wrong and a clear resolution to correct our bad behaviour.
What is Jesus’ baptism? It is an entry into grace and community in such a way that empowers us internally to do what is impossible for us to do by our willpower alone.”
Each one of us is called to be a prophet of Christ – to “proclaim” (the Greek word for prophet), in our ministries, in our compassion and generous, in our courageous and constant commitment to what is right that Jesus the Messiah has come.
The same Word that came to John in the desert comes to each of us in the deserts of our own hearts, enabling us to transform the wastelands and straighten the winding roads of our lives in the compassion and justice of God.
John comes to fulfil Isaiah’s vision of the prophet: to “make straight” a highway for God, to create a level road for all of us to travel to the kingdom of God. In baptism, we take on that same prophetic role of “road building:” to create passageways and entries of hope, healing and support for all of us to complete our journey to God’s dwelling place.
In giving the needs of others priority over our own interests, in taking the first humbling steps toward reconciliation with another, in seeing in other people the face of Christ, we make a “highway” in our world for the Lord who comes.
- A series of specific interrogations made it possible to judge the real intentions of the candidate who wished to adopt the Jewish religion. After submitting to these interrogations, he was circumcised and later baptized before witnesses. In the baptism, he was immersed naked in a pool of flowing water; when he rose from the pool, he was a true son of Israel. After their baptism, new converts were allowed access to the sacrifices in the Temple.
- Baptism: A Pre-Christian History. 2015. Baptism: A Pre-Christian History. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bible.ca/ef/topical-baptism-a-prechristian-history.htm. [Accessed 06 December 2015].