The Third Sunday of Advent
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

WHEN I WAS THE COMMANDANT OF THE ARMY CHAPLAIN SCHOOL, I HAD A DIRECTORATE THAT WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR DESIGNING NEW AND IMPROVED EQUIPMENT FOR CHAPLAINS IN THE FIELD. ONE OF THE THINGS THEY PROPOSED, WHICH THE SPECIAL FORCES TOOK OVER, WAS THE TEXT TO VOICE TRANSLATOR; SO THEY WERE A BUNCH OF SMART FOLKS. ONE DAY MY SECRETARY TOLD ME THEY WERE READY TO PITCH A NOW CONCEPT TO ME IN MY CONFERENCE ROOM; AND THEY WERE SET UP WITH A WHOLE “DOG AND PONY SHOW” OF POWERPOINT SLIDES AND ILLUSTRATIONS. THEY WERE PROPOSING THE DEVELOPMENT OF A POTABLE BAPTISMAL POOL FOR USE IN ARID CLIMATES. IT WAS A POP UP FRAME THAT HELD A WATERPROOF LINER THAT ALL FIT INTO A FOUR BY FOUR BOX WITH CARRY HANDLES. AT THE END OF THEIR PRESENTATION, AS THEY ALL LOOKED AT ME WITH GREAT ANTICIPATION, I SAID, “WELL . . . WHY NOT JUST DIG A HOLE, LINE IT WITH PLASTIC, DUCT TAPE THE SEAMS, AND FILL IT WITH WATER?” FROM THE LOOKS ON THEIR FACES, YOU MIGHT THINK I HAD JUST RUN OVER THEIR PUPPY – WHICH I GUESS I DID. THE “HOW” OF BAPTISM WAS FOR ME, AND STILL IS, IRRELEVANT: IT IS THE “WHY” THAT IS IMPORTANT.

WE HAVE NO SOLID EVIDENCE OF BAPTISM IN THE RITES OF FIRST CENTURY JUDAISM, EXCEPT FOR THE USE OF THE MIKVAH FOR RITUAL WASHING, AND FOR THE IMMERSION OF CONVERTS TO JUDAISM. WHAT JOHN WAS DOING AT THE JORDAN WAS A NEW THING; A BAPTISM FOR REPENTANCE. THIS WAS MOST LIKELY INFLUENCED BY THE DAILY WASHING PRACTICED BY THE ESSENE COMMUNITIES AROUND QUMRAN. THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS TELL US THAT THE ESSENES WOULD WASH SEVERAL TIMES A DAY AS THE OUTWARD SIGN OF A SPIRITUAL PURIFICATION FROM SIN.

JOHN’S CALL TO REPENTANCE HAS AN APOCALYPTIC EDGE TO IT, AND WAS REMINISCENT OF THE CALLS OF THE ANCIENT PROPHETS TO TURN BACK TO GOD BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. THIS IS WHY THE PEOPLE WONDERED IF HE WAS THE MESSIAH. JOHN’S RESPONSE IS THAT HE IS NOTHING COMPARED TO THE ONE WHO WILL COME, THE ONE WHO WILL BAPTIZE WITH FIRE AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. THE IMAGE HE USED OF THE WINNOWING FORK APPEARS AT FIRST TO BE ALL JUDGMENT, BUT IS, RATHER, A FORESHADOWING OF THE GRACE THAT IS COMING INTO THE WORLD. THE ONE WHO IS TO COME WILL TOSS THE GATHERED WHEAT INTO THE AIR TO ALLOW THE WIND TO BLOW AWAY THE CHAFF, WHILE THE GOOD GRAIN HE WILL GATHER TO SAFELY KEEP FOR HIMSELF.

WHEN JESUS CAME TO THE JORDAN TO BE BAPTIZED, HE PLACED HIMSELF IN THE MIDST OF HIS PEOPLE, MAKING HIS BAPTISM ONE WITH THEIR BAPTISM, AND ONE WITH OUR OWN. THAT THIS WAS THE EXPRESS INTENT OF GOD IS AFFIRMED WHEN, AS HE WAS PRAYING, THE HOLY SPIRIT DESCENDED UPON HIM IN BODILY FORM AS A DOVE, AND THE VOICE OF GOD WAS HEARD; “THIS IS MY SON, THE BELOVED, WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.” THAT THIS OCCURRED WHILE JESUS WAS PRAYING AFFIRMS THE REAL PURPOSE OF BAPTISM; IN BAPTISM WE GIVE OURSELVES OVER TO GOD IN CHRIST, TO DO HIS WILL IN THIS WORLD AND NOT OUR OWN. JUST AS JESUS BEGAN HIS MINISTRY WITH HIS BAPTISM, WE ALSO BEGIN OUR MINISTRY IN OUR BAPTISM.

WHEN WE COME TO THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, OR ARE CARRIED TO THE WATERS IN THE ARMS OF OUR PARENTS, WE ARE BEING GIVEN OVER TO GOD; WE BECOME THE GOOD GRAIN WHICH CHRIST WAS GATHERED TO HIMSELF, AND WHICH HE WILL USE TO DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER IN HEAVEN. WE KNOW THAT, EVEN AS WE HAVE BECOME DIFFERENT FROM THE CHAFF OF THE WORLD, WE STILL HAVE OUR HUMAN NATURES THAT PULL US AWAY FROM GOD, WHICH IS WHY BAPTISM IS NOT A ONE TIME EVENT, BUT A WAY OF DAILY REPENTANCE AND A DAILY TURNING BACK TO GOD.

LUTHER CONSIDERED THAT EACH TIME WE WASH WITH WATER, WHICH DID NOT HAPPEN REGULARLY IN HIS DAY, WE SHOULD REMEMBER OUR BAPTISM AND REDEDICATE OURSELVES TO OUR BAPTISMAL VOWS TO SERVE CHRIST AND, THROUGH HIM, TO SERVE OTHERS. IF I CAN PARAPHRASE, HE MUSED ALSO THAT THE PRINCE SHOULD SAY TO HIMSELF, “CHRIST SERVED ME, SO I SHOULD SERVE MY PEOPLE AS BEST I CAN.” THE TAILOR SHOULD SAY, “GOD GAVE ME THIS WORK TO FEED MY FAMILY, AND TO SERVE OTHERS, SO I SHOULD SERVE BY BEING THE BEST TAILOR I CAN.” SO TOO, LUTHER SAID, EVEN THE BEER BARREL MAKER SHOULD DO WHAT HE DOES AS SERVICE TO OTHERS – WHICH I’M SURE LUTHER THOUGHT WAS PRETTY IMPORTANT. IN BAPTISM, WE ARE CALLED TO A LIFE OF SERVICE TO ALL OTHERS, EVEN THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW CHRIST. WE ARE CALLED TO SERVE OTHERS AS CHRIST SERVED US, BY GIVING HIMSELF FOR US.

TODAY WE WILL WELCOME INTO THE GRANERY OF CHRIST TWO NEW GAINS OF WHEAT; CALAIS AND MORGAN. THIS WILL NOT BE A ONE TIME EVENT, TO BE CELEBRATED AND THEN TO MOVE ONE TO SOMETHING ELSE. THIS WILL BE A LIFE CHANGING EVENT, FOR IN THE WATERS THEY WILL BE GIVEN OVER TO GOD, AND THEIR LIVES WILL BE TAKEN UP IN THE LIVING CHRIST FOREVER. WE WILL AFFIRM THIS ETERNAL LIFE WITH GOD, BY REAFFIRMING OUR OWN BAPTISMAL VOWS, AND WELCOME THESE TWO NEW MEMBERS AS ONE WITH US IN THE LIFE LONG SERVICE OF OUR LORD AND GOD. THIS IS NO LITTLE THING, FOR IN THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL DESCEND UPON THEM, AND GOD WILL DECLARE THAT THIS IS MY SON AND THIS IS MY DAUGHTER, AND WITH THEM I AM WELL PLEASED. THEIR LIFE OF SERVICE TO GOD WILL BEGIN.

SOME FIVE YEARS AFTER I RETIRED, I WAS READING THE ARMY TIMES, A WEEKLY NEWSPAPER ABOUT ARMY LIFE, WHEN I DISCOVERED A PHOTO AND ARTICLE ABOUT THE NEW PORTABLE BAPTISMAL POOL PRODUCED BY THE CHAPLAIN SCHOOL. I GUESS YOU JUST CAN’T KEEP A BAD IDEA DOWN. SOME FOLKS JUST DON’T SEEM TO GET IT THAT IT IS NOT HOW WE DO IT, BUT WHAT GOD DOES FOR US AND TO US IN BAPTISM THAT IS IMPORTANT.
AMEN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>