Sermon 1

WAITING – JEFF TINDALL

 

One of things I like to do each year is look over my Presbyterian Calendar.

I like looking over the calendar.

It’s interesting.

One of the first things you notice about the Presbyterian Calendar is that it starts on September 1.

Can you think why?

It’s because that is when the “program year” for the church starts.

It is the nine month “season of church”, so to speak.

We have church all year, but we recognized that summer is a time of vacation and outdoor activity that distracts people from worship and Christian education, though we do a good bit of that, along with mission work, anyway.

September is when Summer is over and it’s time to get back to church for Christian Education and Worship.

The calendar has lots of information.

It tells me what the lectionary suggests as Sunday sermon texts; PCUSA suggestions for denominationally supported subjects for prayer, discussion and sermonizing; the special Sundays where we recognize specific theology or events in Jesus’ life, and a host of additional minutia.

Most importantly, though, the calendar tells me when the big church seasons are.

In order from first to last, the big church seasons are: 

Advent

Christmas

Epiphany

Lent

Easter

Pentecost 

These seasons are part of two “cycles” within the Christian year. commemorate and focus on significant parts of our Christian history and beliefs and traditions.

The first cycle is the “Christmas” cycle that includes Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

The second “cycle is the “Easter” cycle that includes Lent, Easter and Pentecost. 

Each cycle has a preparatory season (Advent and Lent) symbolized by the color purple representing royalty, penitence and preparation.

Each also has a festival season (Christmas and Easter) symbolized by the color white symbolizing joy and celebration, purity and particular events in the life of Jesus. 

Red is used only on the day of Pentecost and represents the fire of the Holy Spirit.

After each cycle there is an “ordinary time” symbolized the color green representing hope and growth. 

Have you ever wondered where these “Seasons of Worship” and their colors came from?

I can tell you that, with the exception of Pentecost, a Jewish feast day, none are referenced in the New Testament.

So where did they come from, when and why?

That is what we will be talking about for the next few weeks in a sermon series called “Seasons of Worship”.

Let me cover the liturgical colors first, because it’s easy.

The liturgical colors were not recognized unit the mid 1500’s

Which might have been instituted for the folks of the Middle Ages who had no calendars to tell them when it was Advent, for instance.

The colors are merely indications that the church is in a particular liturgical season with colors selected … well … I could not find out who did it and why.

The Reformed church, that’s us, rejected color in church generally, but over the centuries accepted them as a good thing.

The PCUSA tells such which colors to use on that calendar I mentioned before.

So on to the Seasons of Worship.

Today we will be talking about Advent. 

The first liturgical season of the Christian year.

But today we are also celebrating “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday.

This turned out to be a good thing because I see a connection between the two.

Which is why I picked our text for today. 

Which is why I picked our scripture reading for today.

Luke 3: 1-6; 21-22

3In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every 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; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” …

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

The word “advent” means the coming into being or arrival of something.

So, we might it use to mean the something like the “advent” of the automobile or the internet.

Things that have already come-to-be or arrived.

We Christians use the term to mean that something is coming-to-be but has not yet arrived.

So, for us Advent is a season of waiting.

Historically and Biblically, the wait we commemorate is the wait for the Messiah.

We Christians know who that was now.

Jesus.

And so, Advent is the time when we commemorate the coming of Jesus as Messiah.

Luke seems to support that the coming of Jesus as the Messiah could be at Jesus’ birth or at Jesus’ baptism.

And like the birth story, Luke says nothing about baptism whatsoever after today’s text.

Remember Luke’s Gospel was written in the first century.

Jesus’ divinity was not really part of first century apostolic teaching and would not be for centuries.

Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ baptism are simply reported historical events subject to discussion and interpretation.

Understanding this allows us to hear Luke’s Gospel and to interpret it in terms of its place in time.

There are reasons to commemorate the advent of the baby and the advent of the baptism.

Stories of the Messiah who came to be, who arrived.

As to the baby, for the first few centuries after Jesus, the church paid no attention to a season of Advent.

We first hear of a season of advent in the 5th Century when Bishop Perpetuus of Tours declared a fast from November 11 to Christmas, the Sunday when the church honored the birth of Jesus (more about that next week).

Advent was sort of a local thing in Tours apparently.

Advent was not recognized by Rome for another 100 years, when Pope Gregory the Great adopted it and shortened it to the four weeks before Christmas. 

I am sure that was a relief to those fasting in Tours.

The basic idea of Advent, much like Lent, was to set forth a period of time for folks to “prepare” for the upcoming Holy Day – the celebration of the Messiah’s arrival.

But here is where it gets tricky.

Where things don’t quite fit into the seasons.

The “Holy Day” that folks were to commemorate was not the same in different parts of the church.

There were two views.

One Christmas.

The birth of Jesus announced by the angels.

That was in the western church of Pertetuus and Gregory (Rome).

The other was that the Holy Day was Jesus’ baptism.

The day of Jesus’ ordination so to speak as Messiah via a voice from heaven and anointing by the Holy Spirit.

That was in the eastern church (Constantinople).

Both focus on a different Biblical way of identifying Jesus as Messiah who cam-to-be.

So, which is it?

Maybe both.

Does it matter?

Probably not.

But is interesting.

The events described by Luke today are thirty or so years after Jesus’ birth.

John the Baptist, son of Elisabeth and Zacharias, has taken on the mantel of the prophet described by Isaiah.

The one crying out in the wilderness telling people to prepare the way of the Lord – the Messiah.

It is unlikely that any of the people John was preaching to knew anything about Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, a stable, angels, shepherds, or the birth of a child placed in a manger.

But Luke knew it.

He describes all that earlier in his Gospel.

And now Luke describes a different messianic announcement.

Not of the birth of a new-born king.

The announcement of the imminent arrival of a fully grown Messiah!

To the folks who were waiting for the Messiah sent by God to free them from the tyranny of their oppressors.

Emperor Tiberius.

Pontius Pilate.

Herod.

Herod’s brother Philip.

Lysanias ruler of Abilene.

The high priesthoods of Annas and Caiaphas.

The Messiah was coming to return the people to their place as God’s chosen nation.

It was time to get ready.

Time to prepare.

How?

One way was to get baptized.

It’s important to understand what baptism meant to John.

Baptism was a means of penitence.

To be permitted to stand in the presence of God one had to undergo ritual cleansing.

Immersion in water.

It was what was necessary as part of the preparation for the presence of God. 

Making the way of the Lord.

That is what is happening in our text.

John is telling the people to get ready.

And then Jesus showed up.

Last in line, Jesus, too, was baptized by John.

Luke describes no conversation between Jesus and John.

Luke just describes a different sort of heavenly announcement.

The Holy Spirit descends and a voice from heaven blesses the wet Jesus.

Jesus leaves the water and starts on his journey to the cross.

I love this story.

To me it connects Jesus’ birth to Jesus’ mission.

Jesus was born for this.

To become one of us.

And to show us how he would do it.

Baptism.

Think about it for a moment.

While we love to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, we can’t go there with the shepherds.

But what we can do is go to the baptismal water, enter into it, and then remember that Jesus went into that same water.

The water we are baptized in is the same as the water Jesus was baptized in.

This water.

The water God created in the beginning and is still with us today.

We enter into this water which connects us to God.

It is the way of the Lord.

That is why we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.

It is considered by many to be the “advent” of the one who saves us.

The advent of Jesus the Messiah.

So, Advent might include both birth and baptism.

But maybe there is more advent remaining.

The moment we commemorate at this table.

When the Messiah who was born, baptized and died on the cross brought us into the presence of God.