Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Advent 2
December 9, 2012, 10:48 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday 9th December 2012

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee,” and so on. Luke gives a precise date for the events he is narrating, because he wants us, his readers, to understand that everything he tells us really happened, at a particular time in history, in a particular place on earth. Even though he tells his story after the fashion of ancient historians, which would not in every respect be the way a modern historian would tell it, he wants to emphasise the basic truth of what he tells us. It is fact, not fancy.

In a certain place, in a certain year, a man appeared- his name was John, we know his family- with a message. He proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” By doing this, he fulfilled the words of the ancient Prophet, who spoke of “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘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.”

What Isaiah was talking about was the return of the Jews from Exile to their homeland, a time of liberation and fresh start. Luke is saying that John’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” marked the end of another Exile, the invitation to return to another Homeland. The Exile was the self-imposed separation of the human race from its Creator, the Return was a real “turning again” (that is what the Greek word metanoia, which we translate “repentance” actually means). The Return is not geographical, like the old one, it is a return of the mind and heart.

John offered an outward sign of that inward change of direction. Those who wanted to make a fresh start were dipped by him in the river Jordan, a symbolic drowning that was also a washing. A new life began, and the moral stains and dirt were washed away. When Jesus began his own mission, he too offered a baptism, and his final mission to the disciples was to go and baptise all nations. This, of course, we continue to do.

The baptism was “for the forgiveness of sins”. Literally, the Greek means “the taking away of failures,” which I think is a more interesting translation. I read only the other day that an investigation in America showed that people who feel themselves forgiven are more generous in their charitable giving than those who do not. What I think this illustrates is that people who are weighed down by a sense of failure lack the motivation to think of the needs of others. They are hemmed in by their sense of insufficiency, which somehow paralyses their ability to reach out to others. Those who feel themselves to be forgiven and loved by God blossom out and want to show their gratitude by showing love to others.

My final point, then: can we make a fresh start this Advent, maybe with a sacramental confession to seek and be assured of God’s forgiveness. That may be the kick-start we need to refresh and renew our Christian commitment, in preparation for our celebration of our Saviour’s birth.


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Comment by Maureen Lash

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