Every year on the first Sunday after Epiphany we remember the baptism of Jesus. It’s at this moment in the story that Jesus receives his call to ministry. In the gospels of Mark and John, this is the first time we actually encounter Jesus. Luke, on the other hand, starts the story before Jesus was even born. We even run into him in late childhood. Now, Jesus is an adult, and he comes down to the river to where John the Baptist was preaching a message of repentance and baptizing those who were willing to repent. The people wondered whether John was the promised one, the Messiah, but John told them that the Messiah was still coming! While John baptized with water, the Messiah would baptize with Holy Spirit and Fire. Jesus joined this crowd who came down to the river. He got in line just like everyone else. He doesn’t make a fuss. There’s no spectacle. He’s simply baptized by John and then he goes off to pray.
You can understand why early Christians wanted to connect Jesus to Bethlehem. They proclaimed that Jesus was the promised child born in Bethlehem, who bring fulfillment to this promise of peace. We continue to embrace this vision as we celebrate Advent and Christmas – both the hope and the fulfillment. The phrase “little clans of Judah” caught my eye, as it did for Phillips Brooks. One of the wonders of life is that God doesn’t follow conventional wisdom. God doesn’t choose the powerful and the mighty – such as Assyria or Babylon – to accomplish God’s purposes. No, God chose Israel and Judah. And it was seemingly out of nowhere that David came to power. Remember that he was the youngest child in Jesse’s family. Jesse didn’t even bother to call him home when Samuel went looking for a replacement for Saul. Yet, God called David to be king. Wonders of wonders!
Each Sunday of Advent we process into the sanctuary, led by a child carrying a lantern. This year we’re singing “Emmanuel,” a song that reflects on a name that means “God with Us.” Advent is a lot like the season of Lent, because it forces us to slow down and look for God’s presence in our midst. This is an especially difficult task at this time of year, because there are lots of distractions. For instance, the Christmas buying season begins earlier each year, and the radio stations go all Christmas on Thanksgiving Day if not before. Then there’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday, office parties and holiday concerts. Yes, there is much to do, and so little time to do it. So why bother with Advent? Why not go directly to Christmas? Since this is my first opportunity to preach during the Advent season, I decided to bring us up to date. Because I’m preaching from the prophetic books of the Old Testament, I thought we might look back at the lectionary readings from the prophets chosen for the first two Sundays of Advent.
David Gushee was the Perry Gresham Lecturer for 2015. He addressed the important question of how to be a welcoming and inclusive community, especially regarding LGBT brothers and sisters. While there isn't a print version, you may listen to David's words of wisdom here.
We adults may forget at times that children might be watching us and listening to us. So, what are they seeing and hearing as they run around in our midst? What message is being conveyed? What stumbling blocks are being placed in their way?