Summary: John the baptiser called for believers to repent. This sermon asks what we need to repent of, reminds us we need to turn back to God, and calls for preparation for what God has for us this next year.
If you were going to describe the time 20 years ago in 1989 when the Churches of the town worked together to plan and produce Festival 89 I wonder what you would say. More specifically, if you were going to date the time and the place and the event without naming the date I wonder what you would say. Now I wasn’t there so I’m at a disadvantage, but if you were to say to me it was in the 10th year of Peter Ashton’s reign as Team Rector, the 6th year of Rob Richards’ time as a Team Vicar, the time when the Churches of the town worked hard to produce a time of evangelistic outreach, and the time when J John visited the town to preach, and a time when many people came to faith in Jesus Christ, I would know exactly when you mean. I would also know it is a time many people look back on fondly. A time many long for again! Amen!
Luke dates the mission of John the Baptist carefully: ‘The 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar’ (3:1).
Tiberius was Roman Emperor from 14 AD until 37 AD so this dates the ministry of John at about 28 AD; and although we call him John his Hebrew name is Yochanan which means ‘Yahweh was gracious, showed favour’. Do you long to see The Lord Almighty being gracious, showing favour? Do you long to see people coming to faith in Jesus? Do you long to see a time when preachers take up the mantle of Yochanan the Baptiser, ‘preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (3:3)? Do you long to see God showing favour as droves of people come to faith in Jesus and there are queues at the doors of the churches in our town? If you do then there is much to be praying for, but renewal or revival in the Church of England will require us to be personally and corporately renewed and revived.
Yochanan the baptiser was calling the faithful to undergo an act of immersion in water not for ritual cleansing but to signify genuine repentance.
The danger can be that people who have been Christians for a long time can hear the word ’repentance’ and simply associate it with saying sorry for transgressions committed; and I use the word ’transgressions’ as that is the word used by Tiger Woods this week in his candid apology to his wife and family for his ’recent transgressions’; but ’repentance’ in its Jewish context at the time of John and Jesus meant both turning away from sins and turning back to God. If we turn away from sins without turning to God then we are almost certainly turning away from one set of sins to another set of transgressions.
A modern day John the Baptist might use 1 John 1: 8-10: ’If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives’.
So why do we have this Bible Reading on the 2nd week of Advent you may ask? Well Luke the gospel writer sees the ministry of Yochanan the Baptiser as part of the fulfilment of Isaiah chapter 40 verses 3 to 5, and Luke quotes from Isaiah. If Advent is truly a time of preparation for the future 2nd coming of the Lord Jesus, then fresh repentance can only be a good thing! John was preparing people for the message of Jesus.
Are we prepared to share the message of Jesus with people in our community? And are we personally prepared for what Jesus is calling us to be and to do in the year ahead?
Luke quotes Isaiah by saying, “…prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God” (Isa 40:3). Building a straight road in a desolate place takes teamwork, planning, and a release of resources. Thankfully, God will do it!
What would a 21st Century John the Baptist say to this Church as you prepare to receive your new Vicar? What would a 21st Century John the Baptist say to me as I prepare to be joined by a new colleague? What do we need to repent of, to turn away from, as we return back to God? What do we need to leave behind in the past?
For those of you who were Christians in this place for Festival 89 and found it to be an encouraging time – what do we need to do for such a time to be in our midst once again?