Sermon for Advent 3 (14 December 2008)
Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11
John 1.6-8, 19-28
Today, we will celebrate. Brent and Chloe are being baptised—there’s just a few years between them, but that doesn’t matter. And Felicity and Jared are being confirmed—we are confirming their baptism, and rejoicing with them that they are taking on the promises of baptism for themselves. And if that’s not enough, Ben is being confirmed tonight.
We tend to think of baptism and confirmation as things we do; but in reality, the main action is God’s and God’s alone. It is God who brings us into the Christian family through baptism. It is God who gives us the faith to respond to God’s love and grace. (By the way—some people don’t have faith. That’s not because God doesn’t offer it to them. It’s that they don’t receive it. God gives faith to everyone who will receive it.) Finally, it is God who sends the Spirit upon us, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and wonder in God’s presence, the Spirit of joy and delight in God’s service. The Spirit, in fact, of Jesus Christ.
We just stand and get wet. Or kneel and have hands laid upon us. God does all the work.
Later, I’ll invite you to come forward and dip your hand in the water in the font and make the sign of the cross on your own forehead. This will be to help you to remember that you too have been baptised, that you are part of the family of God. By grace.
If you do that, God will be again the main actor. God will be giving you the faith to come forward, God will be encouraging you, and God’s Spirit will be strengthening your spirit.
Sometimes, we think this whole Christian thing is all up to us. We’ve got to get our act together. We’ve got to get serious about church or reading the bible or praying.
There’s a partnership going here, between us and God. And God is the senior partner.
Last week I talked about clearing a track in the desert for God. I was referring to this part of Isaiah, where it says:
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
A voice cries out:
Get the road through the wilderness ready.
Clear a track through the desert for our God.
Fill the potholes, bridge the valleys,
cut through the mountains to level the grade.
Where the going is rough, smooth it out;
lay a new surface over old corrugations.
Then the Lord will come, radiant in glory.
Everyone on earth will see it together.
We have the Lord’s word on it!
Isaiah 40.1, 3-5
Our part is to prepare our hearts for God. To turn from sin, to say No to those things that stop us embracing the Spirit of God and the Way of Jesus Christ.
When we do that, we may discover that Jesus is waiting for us. His life was fully cleared for God. He lived a life of full and complete communion with God. He gave himself fully and completely to his Father God. He is the clear track through the desert, and if we belong to him, then we are on that track too. We can walk the clear way that Jesus has prepared.
In baptism, we are united with Jesus. Our baptism service says,
By God’s grace,
baptism plunges us
into the faith of Jesus Christ,
so that whatever is his may be called ours.
‘Whatever is his may be called ours.’ Jesus is the Son of God; we are children of God. Jesus is holy and righteous; God says that we too are holy and righteous. Jesus has overcome death; in him, we too need have no fear of death.
One more thing. Today’s reading from Isaiah says,
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news
to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners…
In the synagogue of Nazareth, his home town, Jesus said that all this was fulfilled in him. He was bringing good news to the oppressed, he proclaimed liberty to captives and release to prisoners. He was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
We were among those who were oppressed by sin, and enslaved by fears and doubts. He has set us wonderfully free. He has done this for us.
But: ‘Whatever is his may be called ours.’ Jesus was called to set people free; his calling is ours too. Now we have been set free, we are called to announce and extend that freedom to others. To be baptised is to be enrolled in the Church whose vocation is to bring freedom to others. Being baptised is just a beginning. Being confirmed is a stage along the way.
When we confirm Brent, Felicity and Jared, and tonight when we confirm Ben, we’ll be praying that the Spirit of God strengthen them, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and wonder in God’s presence, the Spirit of joy and delight in God’s service. We’ll be praying that they are gripped and possessed by the very Spirit of Jesus Christ.
And one day, we hope that we shall pray that prayer for Chloe too.
If you decide to come out to recall your baptism, you may want to ask the Spirit of Jesus to give you strength and wisdom and wonder and joy also.
Baptism is a great gift and a great calling! Because we are baptised, ‘Whatever is Jesus Christ’s may be called ours’. Thanks be to God!