Sermon December 9, 2018 Rev. Ginny Smith
THE CRY THAT HERALDS LIFE
The Rev. Dr. Virginia B. Smith
When I could stay awake after 10:00 PM without falling asleep, I loved watching the late night Johnny Carson Show. At the beginning of the show the lively theme music was played and Ed McMahan in his booming voice introduced the various guests who would be appearing. You could feel the anticipation and excitement building.
Then Ed, as only Ed could do, introduced the star of the show with a loud "HERE'S JOHNNY!" And then everyone would clap wildly and whistle as they waited for Johnny to come out from behind the curtain.
Without pushing the metaphor too much, I would say that Luke has set up a similar scenario in our Gospel reading today. We hear a full rundown of all the important leaders and rulers and then into the midst of all the pageantry and wealth steps a humble man, a man of the desert, a man named John, son of Zechariah, who introduces us to a new way of looking at life and a new way of living our lives.
This "John" is the Ed McMahan of our story. He comes on stage and begins to prepare the way for the one everybody has been waiting to see.
As John the Baptizer speaks, we can feel the build-up and tension,
until he exclaims: "HERE'S THE MESSIAH!" And then we all wait in great anticipation for the Messiah, the Christ, the one anointed by God to step out from behind the curtain.
This man, John, was called by God for a specific and a crucial task. He was the one God had selected as a messenger to prepare all people for the coming of the Messiah. John is "THE CRY THAT HERALDS LIFE." John is the announcer.
John had such authority and authenticity that mobs of people came to listen to him. They could sense that he was a special instrument of God. People from Jerusalem and all Judea were drawn to him. They took John seriously. They confessed their sins and repented. Then John plunged them into the cold water of the Jordan River to baptize them because they wanted to change their lives.
Keep in mind, there had been no authentic prophecy in Israel for about 400 years since the time of Malachi, which is the last book in the Hebrew scriptures. Oh, sure, there were probably prophets, but no one to whom the people paid attention.
BUT PEOPLE PAID ATTENTION TO JOHN!
Interestingly enough, they came to hear him in spite of the hard words he spoke. He had a passion for speaking the truth – God’s truth.
"Turn away from your sins, repent of all your wrongdoings, and be baptized. God has forgiven you.”
Yes, some were offended and others were made uncomfortable. But John was a desert athlete, a rough-hewn man utterly devoted to God, and what he said over 2000 years ago, continues to speak to us today.
There has to be a change in your life, folks, and here’s what you’re going to do. Get the road ready for the Lord! Make a straight path for him. Fill up every valley and level every mountain and hill. Straighten the crooked paths and smooth out the rough roads. Then everyone will see the saving power of God. No one is to higher; no one is to be around the bend and unable to see.
If we think the roads in Central New York are rough, they are nothing compared to the roads in biblical times. Before a royal person and his/her entourage could travel from place to place, the roads had to be fixed so that they could ride in comfort and the risk of accident could be minimized.
The ongoing joke in our area is that we have two seasons - winter and construction. But we all know that when a road is to be replaced, there has to be good preparation, no matter how aggravating it can be. Roadbeds and bridges must be prepared well and properly before the cement or asphalt can be laid. If not, disaster may very well result.
This is what John is telling us as he quotes from the prophet Isaiah. Prepare, get your life in order. It is only by taking a hard look at ourselves, naming and owning those ways we have separated ourselves from God and others and changing the direction in which we are going that we will be ready for the one whom God is sending.
John is the kind of leader we need today to point in the right direction. As an article in “Parade Magazine states it:
"We do not need a leader who confirms us in our cherished illusions and caters to our prejudices and insecurities. We do need a leader who will tell the truth, however painful, and who will trust the people with the truth...."
Leadership is lifting a community’s vision to higher sights, expecting those in that community to be the best God created them to be, always looking to the well-being and interests of others.
What better person than John could God have called to proclaim the Christ, the Messiah. John had guts – all people - you and me - to faith rooted in repentance. He chose not to live in fear. Fear blocks God! But as Scripture reminds us: “Perfect love casts out fear.” John was open and awake to God’s Spirit working in his life.
John knew there were many who came to him to be baptized who could talk a good game. They could say the right words so that they looked holy and righteous on the outside. But John knew that the change had to be evidenced in how they lived their lives. And it's the same for us today.
What in your life needs changing? What is keeping you from deepening your relationship with God - from opening your heart to Jesus Christ so that you can live obedient lives? Is it EGO (acronym for “Edging God Out); materialism; self-righteousness; guilt; greed; prejudice; being inattentive to others needs; negative attitudes; resentment; addiction; anger; fear? Perhaps it’s something else.
John the Baptizer had such a high commitment to the purposes of God that he submerged himself to the mission of preparing the world for God’s anointed one, Jesus Christ. NOW IT'S OUR TURN! JESUS NEEDS US! What will you and I do with this time and place in which we live and which God has given us?
What can we do so that our lives and the church will reveal in concrete ways how Jesus changed us on the inside because we have repented and opened ourselves to his transforming love?
What can we do so that Christ will be made present through us to the ill; those who are hungry; those struggling with the loss of a loved one; those in prison; those fleeing from their homeland; struggling with mental illness; those who don’t believe, but know their lives ae empty?
We are living in troubled times, but we are Christians living in troubled times, and we are needed to bring hope, peace, joy, and love into a world that assumes violence is the primary response to any disagreements and problems.
John is daring us to do something with the Good News God gives to us in Jesus Christ to make a difference in this world. The time in which we live needs a new introduction to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and new life. We are called by God to be the introducers, the preparers, the proclaimers of the Good News that Jesus came into the world to show God’s love by forgiving sins and transforming those open to him by giving new life and wholeness!
COME, LORD JESUS, COME!