Have you ever noticed that when you learn a new word or phrase that it’s suddenly everywhere? It’s in the things you read, it comes up in conversations, and you find yourself inexplicably using it for no other good reason but that you have a heightened awareness of its existence.
Well, the word in the forefront of my mind this week is not a new addition to my vocabulary but it is the thing I’ve been thinking about and seeing everywhere I look.
That word is HOPE.
I think this makes sense during the season of Advent when we set our hearts to watching and waiting for the coming of our God to earth as a newborn baby.
So as I listened to today’s Scriptures I heard messages of hope—
In the collect, there’s the hope of greeting with joy the coming of our Lord and Savior;
In the OT lesson, there’s the hope of the coming One who will make everything just and right—the world will be a safe place where hurt and destruction have been abolished;
In the Psalm, I hear the same hope for a redeemed world; and
In the Epistle, Paul is practically tripping over himself with the proclamation of hope for all people because God is faithful and had promised to send an emissary of peace and mercy for the salvation of everyone.
Then we come to the Gospel…
“Be baptized and cleansed of your sins!”
“Yes, be baptized, except for you two-faced, sneaky religious leaders who just want a get-out-of-jail-free card—you should be afraid, very afraid because God is angry and boy are you in trouble!”
“Shape up people and don’t presume that you’re off the hook because of who your family is. God wants to see some change—your heart, your works, your attitude, or it’s into the fire you go!”
Right then… Suddenly, I wasn’t really hearing the hope anymore…
But I know it’s there. Somewhere.
It has to be because Jesus is the one John is referring to. He’s the one God sent and our God is the God of love and hope. So let’s go back and see if we can listen in a new way to what John the Baptist might be saying.
He says, “Repent.” – Turn from all you do that hurts others, yourself, and God. (And) Turn to the One who is coming; the One who will save you and make things right. He tells them to be baptized as an outward act and sign of this turning from and turning to.
Also, notice that there’s something about this message that spoke to peoples’ hearts. After all, they came from all over, from Jerusalem and all Judea, to listen to this “crazy” man dressed in camel’s hair clothing who ate locusts and honey. And here’s how we know that something about his message was drawing them in—they didn’t come to laugh at this spectacle out in the desert, they came and were baptized as a sign of wanting to be prepared for the coming kingdom of heaven. If I were a “hell fire and brimstone” kind of preacher, I’d tell you that they repented because they were afraid, but as we’ve already established, fear is not the “word of the week.”
Of course, I don’t actually know, but I’m going to guess that they had already had enough fear in their lives—the occupation of the Romans, the oppression and powerlessness of poverty—so, why would they rush out to the desert for more misery? I think they were rushing out because they heard a message of hope. Hope that the kingdom of heaven was about to break through and change life as they knew it; hope that the King of this new realm would be someone merciful, just, and for them (dependable). It was a dream come true and they wanted to be ready for it.
John’s words to the religious leaders can be heard in the light of hope as well. He doesn’t tell them not to be baptized or that their sin is too great to be able to enter the kingdom of heaven—he says to them:
You can’t lie to yourself and be made right when your heart isn’t in it.
Your status and outward service isn’t enough.
You can’t go on with “business as usual.” Things have to be different.
You have to be different and what you do has to be different. Yes God is angry, but he’s angry with this prison of propriety you’ve constructed;
he’s angry with this empty shell you call a life.
Turn from your deception, anger, fear, and self-righteousness.
God is coming and he will baptize you with his presence.
You can really belong to the family of God.
You can be all that God made you to be.
You can live a life of hope because God will always be with you and every prayer you utter will be answered with,
“Yes beloved, I am here.”
I’m feeling the hope again, aren’t you?
We’re in the midst of Advent, the time when we symbolically await God’s coming as a baby at Christmas. It’s also a time to rejoice and give thanks for the gift that is Jesus, also called Emmanuel—God with us.
Let’s remember that He is with us in the taking of the Bread and Wine, with us in his Body the Church, and in us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our God is the God of love and hope; the God who answers every prayer by showing up, so let us indeed turn from anything that would draw us away from such an incredible gift and turn toward the One who invites us to come.
Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.