Letting the Light In – 4th Sunday of Advent
Cleaners working on a commercial plane in eastern India have found 24 gold bars stuffed into a toilet compartment. India, which rivals China as the world’s biggest gold consumer, has witnessed a spike in smuggling after import duties were hiked three times this year to try to dampen demand for the precious metal. The plane belonging to Jet Airways was being cleaned at Kolkata airport after a trip from the eastern city of Patna. It had previously been flying on international routes. “The cleaning staff of the airport was going though their routine duties and found two bags in the toilets of the plane,” The one-kilogram gold bars “have not been claimed by anyone. No arrest has been made as yet”. The estimated value of the haul is around $1.1 million.
Pure gold found in an impure, unclean toilet. In our text today, John the Baptist makes a similar discovery, the beauty of a Messiah among the ugliness of sinful people.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent
Here’s what is happening in our text
In all of the Gospels, the ministry of Jesus begins with John the Baptist.
John’s ministry is in contrast to Jesus’, although their central message, “Repent for the kingdom is near,” appears identical. John remains in the wilderness, calling men and women to come out to him. Jesus seems to seek out crowded cities and synagogues. John sternly requires his followers to repent and to be baptized, to lead an acetic life. Jesus says; “follow me” or do as you see me do.
3 Around the same time, a man called John[a] began to travel, preach, and ritually wash people through baptism in the wilderness of Judea. John preached a stern but exciting message.
John: 2 Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near.
3 John’s proclamation fulfilled a promise made by the ancient prophet Isaiah, who had said, “There will be a voice calling from the desert, saying,
Prepare the road for God’s journey;
repair and straighten out every mile of our Lord’s highway.”[b]
John, not the disciple, is called “the baptizer” and he is preaching message of confession and repentance.
Just as Joseph was an example of Jesus’ disciples in the practice of righteousness (1:19), so John is an example of Jesus’ disciples in preaching. They are to preach that “the reign of heaven has drawn near.”
The word for “kingdom” can also mean “reign.” A kingdom cannot draw near, whereas the activity of reigning can be on the verge of happening, so that “reign” is a better translation here.
God is about to reign in the person, presence, and activity of Jesus.
Isaiah 40:3. This passage in Isaiah predicts the return of Jewish exiles from Babylonia. John uses it so speak of a greater deliverance. Preparing for the Lord, making the way straight, is being sorry for sins and living rightly.
4 John wore wild clothes made from camel hair with a leather belt around his waist—the clothes of an outcast, a rebel. He ate locusts and wild honey.
5 People from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and indeed from all around the river Jordan came to John. 6 They confessed their sins, and they were baptized[c] by him in the Jordan.
Locusts and wild honey not only indicate a sparse diet appropriate to the wilderness, but also a specially holy one devoid of meat and blood (hence locusts) and devoid of wine (hence honey, which like wine is sugary but nonalcoholic).
A wilderness was devoid of human population so John “cries out” for someone to hear and “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan” respond. They come out to John to be baptized.
At their baptism they would confess their sins and commit to a change of behavior.
7 He told some Pharisees and Sadducees who came for the ritual baptism,
John: You children of serpents! You brood of vipers! Did someone suggest you flee from the wrath that is upon us? 8-9 If you think that simply hopping in the Jordan will cleanse you, then you are sorely mistaken. Your life must bear the fruits of turning toward righteousness. Nor are you correct if you think that being descended from Abraham is enough to make you holy and right with God. Yes, the children of Abraham are God’s chosen children, but God can adopt as daughters and sons anyone He likes—He can turn these stones into sons if He likes.
10 Even now there is an ax poised at the root of every tree, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and tossed into the fire.
In Matthew 3:7, we see the twofold group we last encountered in Herod’s palace thirty years and two chapters ago: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. John’s response to their presence is to call them a brood of vipers! He issues the same challenge to these religious elite he has to all who have come. No favoritism. If they will not admit their sins he will not baptize them. The Pharisees, Sadducees, religious elite prided themselves on following the law, keeping the rules, and to admit sin would be very insulting and shameful to them.
AlthoughPharisees and Sadducees composed the two leading factions in the Judaism of that period, most Jews didn’t belong to any faction at all.
We also know from the Gospels men like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both Pharisees, became followers of Jesus.
John doesn’t pull any punches. He calls the Pharisees and Sadducees “offspring of vipers!” In other words not God’s children but the Devil’s kids.
He told them they would not avoid God’s wrath without repenting.
To flee the coming wrath requires repentance, a feeling sorry for one’s sins, confessing those sins and then bearing “…fruit in keeping with repentance” or changing their behavior. Absence of a change in life voids the repentance and makes baptism meaningless.
John tells them that Abrahamic ancestry won’t be a substitute. Only a life of purity and humility makes them true children of God. “God can make sons of Abraham out of common stones” is John’s way of saying; “you’re nothing special if you’re not living God’s way!”
“The axe” represents God’s coming judgment. “The trees” represent people. God is taking aim and getting ready to swing! There’s no time to lose! Repent and live rightly.
11 I ritually cleanse you through baptism[d] as a mark of turning your life around. But someone is coming after me, someone whose sandals I am not fit to carry, someone who is more powerful than I. He will wash[e] you not in water but in fire and with the Holy Spirit.12 He carries a winnowing fork in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor; He will gather up the good wheat in His barn, and He will burn the chaff with a fire that cannot be put out.
John refused to baptize the Pharisees and Sadducees (3:7–10) and now addresses those whom he is baptizing. He emphasizes the coming one who is stronger than he and this one will baptize people in the Holy Spirit and fire.
The lack of qualification to carry the coming one’s sandals means John is not the one who will baptize people in the Holy Spirit and fire.
13 And then, the One of whom John spoke—the all-powerful Jesus—came to the Jordan from Galilee to be washed[f] by John. 14 At first, John demurred.
John: I need to be cleansed[g] by You. Why do You come to me?
Jesus: 15 It will be right, true, and faithful to God’s chosen path for you to cleanse Me with your hands in the Jordan River.
“Then” spotlights that John has hardly spoken of the coming one before that one arrives. “To be baptized by him” makes baptism by John the very purpose of Jesus’ coming and sets an example to be followed by Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus has come “from Galilee” to see John at the Jordan. Jesus acts in an unexpected way, asking John to baptize him. From the beginning, John seems to have understood Jesus’ superiority and is confused by Jesus’ request and protests.
Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Let it be so [Jesus’ baptism] for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). The first words of any character in any piece of literature are important.
Jesus assures John this “is proper” and will “fulfill all righteousness.”
John yields to Jesus, the one stronger than he, another example of being a follower of Jesus.
Jesus is not sinful at his baptism. He is identifying himself with the sinful men and women he had come to rescue.
John agreed, and he ritually cleansed Jesus, dousing Him in the waters of the Jordan.16 Jesus emerged from His baptism;[h] and at that moment heaven was opened, and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him, alighting on His very body.
Voice from Heaven: 17 This is My Son, whom I love; this is the Apple of My eye; with Him I am well pleased.
As Jesus is coming out of the water, he sees heaven open and the Spirit descending and resting on him. This is the inauguration of his ministry.
(He) climbs up onto the river bank, without confessing sins, as other who were being baptized had done.
The Spirit of God descends and a voice out of heaven speaks. A luminous moment unfolds, Jesus the Son, hears from the Father, as the spirit alights. They are the two sentiments that will carry him on into his difficult ministry: They will strengthen him and reinforce his unique identity. “I love you. I am pleased with you.”
My Honda CRV has daytime running lamps which are supposed to run, well, during the day. They are designed for safety to allow other drivers to see the car better during daylight hours. When the sun sets and the light outside grows dim the car automatically switches to nighttime lamps which are designed to help the driver see better. When working properly it’s a nice feature.
A few weeks ago, the daytime running lamps stopped activating. A symbol on the instrument panel which indicates whether the daytime or nighttime lights are being used stopped showing up and the nighttime lights stayed lit no matter time of day.
I like wearing a baseball cap. I’ve been wearing one for a long time. However, there are places and times where a cap makes folks feel uncomfortable or would be seen as rude so I leave the cap in the car when visiting certain people and places. Not too long ago, I was heading into a “no ball cap” zone I threw it onto the dashboard of the car. I left it there and the weather turned cool and so started wearing a stocking cap so the ball cap remained on the dashboard.
The daytime and nighttime running lamps work on a light sensor. The sensor is located… on the dashboard, yes, the same dashboard with the ball cap. On my way to the campus one day I was going over my to-do list for the week and began thinking about the lights not working properly and “wammo!” it hit me. Reaching up and taking the ball cap off the dashboard the daytime lamps came on.
As we travel the road to Christmas and beyond we need to hear the words “You are my child. I love you. I am pleased with you.” The truth of God’s Son brings light to our darkest days and into the deepest places of our souls. To walk the path God has set us on we need the light of his love and acceptance. We need to be assured no matter what we go through, what we encounter, the Father loves us and is pleased with us.
Advent is a time to remove anything that hinders our “God Sensor” from receiving the light. It is a time for confession, repentance and allowing the illuminating truth of Jesus to come into our dark world and reveal the light of God’s love.
2 We will praise God for as long as we live.
we will sing praises to our God as long as breath fills our lungs,
3 Do not put your trust in people.
Do not expect any rescue from them.
4 As soon as their breath leaves them, they return to the earth;
on that day, they perish—their dreams, their plans, are forgotten.
5 Blessed are those whose help comes from God,
whose hope is centered in Him—
7 He works justice for those who are pressed down by the world,
providing food for the hungry.
God frees the prisoners;
8 He makes the blind see.
He lifts up those who are bent over;
He cherishes those who do what is right.
9 God looks after those far from home;
He takes care of the orphan and the widow,
10 God reigns today, tomorrow, and forever.