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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Luke 3:1-6
02-Ad2-P-Year B
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
December 7, 2003

The scripture today is all about God’s messenger. God is sending a messenger to tell the people to shape up. This is a voice like the people haven’t heard in years, the sound of a prophet echoing out of the wilderness, his voice bouncing around the temple and off the walls of the buildings where Caiaphas and Lysanias work. “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight! Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God!” The messenger of God scared the daylights out of the people. And they came to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.

The weeks of Advent – better known as Christmas Season – have become a season of baptism here at Lake Hills. Goodness sakes, we’re “having a baby done” every other Sunday, no exaggeration. And that’s actually very appropriate. The messenger of God who prepared the way for the coming of Christ was John the Baptist, not John the Presbyterian. I think John would be proud of us for thinking outside the box.

Whether or not we’re in the Christmas spirit, we’re certainly in the baptizing spirit. John would tell us that we’re getting it right. John would tell us that decorating the house and mailing out cards… John would tell us that making lists for Santa and baking cookies… John would tell us that trimming trees and wrapping packages… John would tell us that all this might be OK, but it’s not the point. John would tell us that if we REALLY want to get ready for Christmas, we ought to keep the water flowing. Baptize those babies. Baptize your house. Baptize yourselves because Jesus Christ is on the way. The spirit of Christmas might be chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but the spirit of Advent is the sound of splashing waters, the sound of sins being confessed, and the sound of God’s messenger echoing off the walls.

If you leave here today and travel Alcoa Highway, you will see the signs that our neighbors the Baptists put up each week. “Prepare to stop!” they say. Which, in some ways, might be a summary of what they just heard in church. I don’t think they intended these signs in the theological sense. I think they’re more concerned about traffic, and hats off to them for achieving the miracle of any kind of traffic control on that highway of the devil. John the Baptist wanted us to prepare the King’s Highway. John wants us to prepare to stop, to stop driving ourselves crazy and to stop driving God crazy. John is calling for the miracle of traffic control for our souls.

Your spirit, my spirit – has a disease. The disease is sin. Sin causes us dis-ease, causes us un-ease, causes us unrest. Sin causes us to do the things we know we don’t want to do. Sin causes us to love the things that are bad for us. Sin drives us away from the hope of paradise, paradise that only comes in relationship with God. Sin sends us off in the direction of the day, hoping to find ease, rest and salvation in whatever savior we can buy or buy into. Sin lies. And like the snake in the Biblical paradise of Eden, sin’s lies are reasonable, attractive and somewhat affordable given the current interest rates. If we’re really going to get ready for Jesus Christ, we have to prepare to stop. We have to prepare to stop the flow of traffic that on our own we’re powerless to get out of. The irony is that the power to stop doesn’t come from a force of will; the power to stop comes from confession. Confession is the power beneath God’s baptismal waters.

When the people came to be baptized by John, they didn’t do it because it was a sweet service. They did it because they were scared. They had sins on their shoulders and they wanted to wash them off before God came. When we bring people to be baptized – and it’s usually infants, but not always – when we bring people to be baptized, it’s one of the most moving times we ever have in worship. There’s just something about the sound of the water splashing back into the bowl, about watching the baby’s expressions. We’re doing something deeply profound as we stand before God and each other and promise that we’re ALL going to be godparents to this child.

But I would say another reason that sharing in the sacrament of baptism is so moving, is because for a few moments we’re tapping into the raw power of God. Confession, the power beneath God’s baptismal waters, is like the guardrails on God’s highway. When we baptize, for a few moments we step forth and dare to frame a human life within those boundaries. The babies don’t have any sins to confess. Hayden hasn’t done anything except be incredibly cute. But the day will come – as it does for us all – when he needs to know the power of God’s forgiving love. What we have said today is that he is starting his life surrounded by and molded in the power of confession. He can’t say the words, so we say them for him. We turn our backs on sin. We renounce the ways of evil. And we turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as our Lord and Savior. We make the absolute best and most powerful confession anyone could ever make on behalf of our child. No matter what else happens, he is covered in God’s love. He is guided by the power of confession. He is baptized.

You are a congregation full of people who have been baptized in God’s love. Whether you remember it or not, your life has been framed within the power of confession. God knows we aren’t perfect. God knows we’re barely prepared to stop any of our sins, no matter what the signs say. But God doesn’t intend for you to live your life perfectly. Perfection is an illusion, a virtual reality. Perfection is an earthly lie. But confession is truth. Confession is actual reality. God intends for you to live your life actually. God intends for you to be bathed – not in your own imperfections, not drowning in your own mistakes; God intends for you to be washed clean in the power of Jesus Christ.

And so right here, today, we prepare to stop and we prepare to go forward. We prepare to stop the sins that mess us up. Not by beating them. But by confessing them. Not by brute force. But by the power of an infant child, surrounded by love and guided by forgiveness. We may or may not be ready for Christmas, but that’s not the point. Right here, today, we get ourselves ready for Jesus Christ. The spirit of Advent is the spirit of confession. The spirit of Advent is the sound of splashing waters. The spirit of Advent is the spirit of John the Baptist, who calls out to each one of us, saying, “YOU prepare the way of the Lord! YOU make his paths straight! Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth. And ALL FLESH shall see the salvation of God.”