the one about the Baptizer...
December 9, 2019, 8:00 AM

Sermon from December 8, 2019

Text: Matthew 3: 1-12

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our risen Lord Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, before I felt, or more accurately before I responded positively, to the call to be in ministry I worked for the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Columbia, SC. I worked mostly in a sub-program of the Pre-Trial Intervention program. I was able to meet a whole host of different individuals while working there. Clients who came through the program, attorneys, judges, and those who provided programs and jobs for our clients to complete and fulfill their community service obligations.

One person in particular stands out and reminds me a bit of the text we read from Matthew’s Gospel this morning.

This was an eccentric guy who had a heart that burned for God. Everything he did in his life was funneled through what he felt was God’s call to him to share and spread the gospel. Everything he did was to ‘proclaim the word!’ Even though our ideologies and theologies didn’t quite match up, that never kept him from sharing his ‘adventures’ in ministry with me. And, I believe I appreciated hearing those stories, even if they were far different from anything I would participate in. One story was particularly memorable.

When his family was young, he’d go around big cities across the country proselytizing about God’s Word. He’d setup on street corners and busy streets proclaiming that Word to all passersby. And he mentioned how many people flocked to hear what he had to say.

He had a way with words and a booming and powerful voice. I can imagine him yelling out like the Baptizer, “You brood of vipers!” It’d sound particularly impactful coming from this guy with that voice. So, I’d ask him what his setup was like (not that I was going to emulate this mind you), but I was curious.

So, he told me. With vigorous enthusiasm, he’d recount that he would drive his family around in an old hearse around busy city areas. When he got to the corner that he wanted to be at, he would throw open the back door and haul out a casket. He’d start proclaiming the word and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the amount of folks that would show up to hear him!

Well, I began to think (but, didn’t say to him) perhaps they gathered in numbers because you drove up in a hearse and threw a casket out onto the sidewalk. Maybe people were curious about what this ‘oddball’ was doing?

Now, obviously, that is not the best way to remember this man whose heart was set on telling people about God. Of course, if I had done that, I’d probably leave the mirror out of the casket, used to scare the crud out of people when he flung it open.

But, as I remember the odd antics of this man, I cannot help but think about John the Baptizer who we hear from today in our Gospel. There is a reason that Matthew goes out of his way to describe what the Baptizer looked like – and I don’t believe it was just to fulfill prophecy. I think Matthew goes into detail about the Baptizer’s appearance because, frankly, it’s a little weird.

Whatever we think people were like and acted back then – they’d fully agree with us – John’s an odd guy. It was NOT common for someone to dress as he did, eat bugs and wild honey, and look like he was a literal part of the wilderness.

And, knowing people like I think I do, I’d guess most people initially showed up to hear him because he was weird and odd and ‘out there.’ I imagine there were many that went to their friends and said, “Billy – come on man. You’ve GOT to see this guy out by the river! You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Come on, let’s go see him.

John’s getup and setup was just as odd as seeing a guy and his family pile out of a hearse on a busy street corner in Columbia, Atlanta, or Charlotte with a casket in their midst yelling something about God. It will – strangely enough – attract people.

But, as I know most people like I think I do, once the ‘oddness’ of your schtick pasts, people will walk away. Once they get their full of weird, they will go back on their way. I know this, because I’ve done it too. Sure, some will fall deep into those words and thoughts that a person is espousing, but more often than not, the majority will walk away shaking their head and chuckling to themselves.

However, I don’t think that’s how people heard and reacted towards the Baptizer along the River Jordan’s shores. There was something in his voice. Something in his message. Something that made what he was saying different. His message, his cry out from the wilderness seemed special in some way.

This was a message that I believe the people of that day hadn’t really heard before. He proclaimed to them that God loved them. Loved them so much that washing in the river would cleanse them in God’s sight. All that muck, grime, and gunk that others told them separated them from God – all that stuff used to put them and keep them at arm’s length from the world – God didn’t care about that stuff.

God called them to repentance; to turn back towards God. Turn back towards God who loved, forgave, and welcomed them. The Baptizer told them of God’s hope. This hope that was for them, for the world, for all of creation.

This message of hope that was in stark contrast to what they’ve heard all their lives. This hope that said they were already enough. That in that sense of enough they can turn back from their ways and return towards God. In fact, the lobs of condemnation that were usually directed at them were now being tossed at those whom the world, culture, and society said were the ones who were ‘above’ them.

This brood of vipers – these religious authorities – who have shirked their responsibility in proclaiming God’s love, forgiveness, and repentance to the world. The ones who had locked God’s love behind status, ritual, and laws. Those are the ones the Baptizer decries, sure telling everyone, but making it forceful so those IN THE BACK could hear his words and God’

John the Baptizer’s cry from the wilderness begins the turning of the world on its side. It is here that we begin to see that God is up to something different. God is onto something new.

That presence of God has always been there, but that message had been twisted and turned into something far different than intended. God was now at the point to set the message rightly. God is going to come down and bring it to all of creation in the most intimate and real way possible. As flesh and blood.

The Baptizer’s message and cry points us to that in-breaking into the world. He calls all to repent and stand with God. But, I want us to be certain of something here. As he lays out some harsh words, I don’t think he’s giving that particular message to everyone. Instead, his gaze and cry are directed at those who have twisted, thwarted, and locked up the message and Word of God’s love for all. The axe is lying at the root of those who have kept God’s hope and love from all. That winnowing fork and burning of the chaff is reserved for those who have kept God’s love and word from those in most need to hear it.

And who needs to hear that renewed message of love?

Those who are pushed aside. Those who are trampled over. Those who are cast out. Those that the powerful and majority in the world have kicked around all through history. The ones that others have said are not good enough for God’s love.

The hope that the Baptizer proclaims in these waters of Baptism is the hope for the world. Hope that no matter what – God loves you. Hope that no matter what you’ve done – you can turn back towards God because God loves you.

John the Baptizer points us to the one who is more powerful than he. He points us to the one who is to come who will usher in this radical love and grace into a world in desperate need to hear it. To know it. To live it. To be enwrapped in it.

During this season of Advent, we await in expectant hope for that one. That one who claims and calls us all. That one who has come down to be with us. To be with us fully and completely.

That one who may use the odd getup from time to time, but whose message makes us know that something here is different. This message that makes people stick around. This message that invites and beckons people to jump into a river. Why? Because hope is a powerful thing.

Hope is the light that pushes back the shadows. Hope is that love that we all crave and need. Hope is what is to come. Hope is what has come down to be with us.

Proclaim hope, and the people will listen. Speak hope, and people will gather. Cry out hope, and people will invite others to hear.

Hope. Hope is coming. Amen.

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