+ In Nomine Jesu +
"John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins."
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
While the much beloved hymn, "Silent Night," will soon leave us basking in the glow of Candlelight serenity, reflecting on the birth of our Savior, the days before then will likely be filled with many distractions that seek to take our attention away from Christ and the true meaning of the season. The seasons of Advent and Christmas bring with them all sorts of demands on our time, such that this has become one of most hectic seasons of the year. There are office parties to attend, family gatherings to go to, not to mention, decorations to be put up, gifts to be bought and wrapped and meals to be planned and prepared.
Fortunately the two sacred days of the retail shopping season, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, have already come and gone. Black Friday found shoppers making their annual pilgrimage to the altar of their favorite retail stores at the most ungodly hours of the day. One has to wonder why Sunday morning is considered by many a time to sleep in, even though God's Incarnate Son wants to visit them in Word and Sacrament, while the wee hours of Thursday night and Black Friday are embraced with anxious anticipation and even with rabid excitement.
"Cyber Monday" doesn't demand quite as much of our time and commitment as "Black Friday." Still, it makes a rather formidable play for our wallets. In fact, as I was writing this sermon this past week little messages kept popping up in the lower corner of my computer screen trying to get me to take advantage of the great deals online.
Between the two sacred retail days, Advent began without a great deal of fanfare. It is the respite, if you will, for the weary, a time to reflect on the coming of Christ and to repent of our tendency to make this most holy season about "things," rather than about Christ. Now, please don't get me wrong, there isn't anything particularly sinister or evil about purchasing gifts for Christmas, whether on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or any other day of the year for that matter. Nor is there anything evil about taking advantage of good deals. In fact, I bought a cordless drill and driver set the other day for 30% off! Merry Christmas to me!
What is sinister, in a subtle way, is that Black Friday and Cyber Monday have appealed to the consumer driven mindset of our culture in such a way that they have become the sacred days of the season, creating a rabid devotion that is seldom seen within the hallowed walls of the Church. The question is, now that those "sacred days" have passed, what does the deal minded consumer have to look forward to?
There is, of course, a problem with the seasons of our lives being defined by our whims and wishes and our insatiable quest for things. "There is a parable of life in the story of the farmer whose dog followed him to town one day. As he hitched his horse and buggy to a post in front of the country store, the storekeeper, seeing the panting dog, chided the farmer for making the dog run all the way while he rode in his buggy. The farmer responded, "That dog is not tired from following me to town. What tired him was all his foolish zigzagging. There was not an open gate, a hole in the fence, or a tree stump that he didn't explore. He is tired from all his zigzagging."
That's the way we are tempted to live, zigzaging from one diversion to another, from one pleasure to another, from one excitement to another. When we give in to it, we wear ourselves out but really don't know where we are going. We simply chase everything that appears. Robert Bums, the famous poet, confessed late in life, "The misfortune of my life was want of aim."
The truth is, making that special purchase at a great price, even ahead of everyone else, doesn't satisfy a heart that yearns for meaning and significance in life. King Solomon, whose riches and possessions were legendry, came to that very conclusion. "Whatever my eyes desired (he wrote) I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun." Many years after Solomon wrote those words, the noted theologian St. Augustine, identified very pointedly why our hearts are often empty, always seeking, always striving for meaning and purpose in life. "Our hearts (he said) are restless until they find their rest in Thee, O Lord."
On another day, at another time, people made their way to the Jordan River to hear what the prophet was saying. John was a peculiar man, clothed as he was in camel's hair, eating wild honey and locusts. His appearance alone was intriguing to people. As it turns out, the enthusiasm of Black Friday and Cyber Monday couldn't hold a candle, in terms of interest, to John's day in the wilderness of Judea. In fact, we are told that "all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him and were confessing their sins."
I don't mean, in the least, to diminish the Gospel and Jesus' sacrifice, but, let's be honest about what went on that day. There in the Judean countryside, John offered wanting hearts the deal of a lifetime! God was coming into the world bringing with Him forgiveness and life and salvation! He was doing a new thing, taking on human flesh that He might bear in His body the sins of the whole world! And the most amazing thing is, He was giving the blessings of His sacrifice, He was bringing the cross that His Son would soon die on to bear in the lives of the most unworthy sinners through the most unlikely means.
When John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, baptism wasn't new to the people by any means. To baptize simply means to wash! The Jews had used baptism in their religious rites for many, many years. In fact, it was their custom to wash, to baptize the various utensils that would be used in their religious observances and ceremonies. It is because of the cleansing nature of washing, of baptizing, that John was so astonished when Jesus came to be baptized by him. He said to Jesus, "You come to be baptized by me. I need to be baptized by You!"
The point is--the Jews understood the ceremonial nature of the rite of baptism. John though came preaching a different baptism. His was "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." Once again God was doing a new thing! Later, St. Paul would tell us exactly what that new thing is that God would be doing through baptism. He wrote, "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
Your baptism, my friends, is the deal of a lifetime! God took from you what is yours, namely your sin, and He gave you what is His, His holiness and righteousness, even the favor of the Father. All that Jesus did for you in dying and rising from the dead was brought to bear in your life through that simple, unassuming cleansing of days gone by. Consequently the seasons of Advent and Christmas actually mean something to you. In fact, they, along with Good Friday and Easter mean everything to you. They define your life, as well as your purpose and meaning in life. St. Augustine was right! "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee, O Lord." In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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