SERMON 12/9/12 Advent 2C
Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16 The Song of Zechariah Luke 1: 68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Today, in a very short period of time, we will welcome two newly baptized Christians, Nicholas and Joshua Dowgiallo. In the church, there are only a few days that are appropriate for baptism: The Great Vigil of Easter, The Day of Pentecost, The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, All Saint’s Day, The Sunday after All Saint’s Day, and at a visitation from the bishop. The rubrics of the prayer book do not preclude baptisms on other days though and so, we will as a community join with the family of those two young men, and commit to support their spiritual journey beginning in the waters of baptism.
Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which one becomes a member of the Church and thus, all ministry originates in baptism. Therefore, living out one’s baptism is at the heart of our life together and as such, it is a community and not a private turning point in one’s life. The Episcopal Church defines baptism as “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church.” Baptism is an event of primary significance for Christians and it is a celebration not just for the individuals, but for the whole church.
So here we are in Advent week 2, and the scripture readings today proclaim John the baptizer as the fore-runner, the preparer, the one to make the ways straight, and the one “crying in the wilderness.” I could not have planned these baptisms any better. John the Baptist was the fore-runner but he was not the promised one. John pointed the way to the one, Jesus, who was the Christ. John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is a word that for many of us, comes with some misconstrued ideas.
“Repent and be saved!” Ever hear these words from the pulpit of a church or a bullhorn on a city street? I believe we need to be reminded what repentance really means. Repentance literally means to change one’s mind, to actually turn around. It means to leave the path on which we are traveling and take a new direction. There seems to be a lot of “journeying” or “traveling” metaphors that apply to being a disciple of Jesus. Even John’s ministry included, “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.” Jesus’ ministry definitely was a journey and it involved moving from place to place. He moved from one place/event (his baptism), to temptation in the desert, to those places where he proclaimed the Good News, and eventually to Jerusalem, the cross, resurrection, and ascension. The journey of Our Lord, our journey in life following Our Lord, begins with repentance, turning, changing our minds, leaving the path we have been on, for the one God calls us to follow. Baptism is an outward sign of the inward grace bestowed on us, who turn around and follow Jesus.
In this liturgical, sacramental dance of baptism, we join the saints past who too have, in this sacred moment turned, took a detour, hung a u-turn, and chose an alternative route, so they like us, might be released from the bondage of something we talk very little about; sin. Ἁμαρτιῶν is the Greek word for sin. It means “to miss the mark,” to err, or to be mistaken. Sin is the source of the chasm in the relationship between us and God, between us and each other.use imply put, sin is the heart turned inward upon itself.
When we turn to God and begin the new journey in baptism, we begin walking on a new path. Throughout our journey, we “miss the mark” and veer off track from time to time. We are always offered the wonderful grace to get back on that path of mercy, love, reconciliation, and yes, grace. There is one beginning, one baptism and thus, in that sacred moment, we experience a release form the bondage of missing the mark, and we enter a community of fellow sojourners, who together support each other on the journey.
Baptism is a community event, not merely a “rite of passage,” for the individual. There are great responsibilities for all of us when we as a community gather to welcome the newly baptized. First, the church, not merely the priest, the parish office, or the youth minister has a responsibility to those two young men. During the baptism, I will ask the church this question, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” My friends, in that moment we all (priest and people) will commit to support the parents, sponsors, and those two young men, as they journey in the faith of Christ. Are you up to it as a community?
The parents and sponsors have a responsibility too. I will ask them, “Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?” Their role is to teach them the narratives of Jesus, to not only tell them who he is, but to demonstrate his life through their lives. The parents and sponsors are reminded that they should pray with and for Nicholas and Joshua each day. I remind you all of us to love them, as Jesus loves us. The candidates Joshua and Nicholas have great responsibilities too, because they are taking on the same baptismal vows each one of us has taken at some point Their responsibility in this journey in Christ, is your responsibility too.
The baptismal vows include a lot of “will you’s,” and we answer, “WE will with God’s help.” The answer “with God’s help,” reminds us that we cannot fulfill our promises without God’s support and thus, we are dependent on God’s grace along this journey. Here are a few of those promises I encourage you to review frequently, to pray about incessantly, and to return to occasionally as you continue the path of discipleship.
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” In other words, will you continue to learn and study the faith, and will you gather together, and will you share communion, and will you pray?
“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” In other words, will you resist our own tendency to inflict injury, harmful, and unloving actions against each other; sin. Also, the question acknowledges that we will fall off the path, but will we strive to repent and return?
“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? In other words, will we share the Good News of the loving God who has released us from the bondage of sin? Will we evangelize? Will you let your life be an example of that Good news?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? In other words, will you look for Christ’s love in all people, even those for whom you have disdain, and then love them? In other words, are we aware that this journey is not just about us.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? In other words, this Jesus path we are requires us to not merely cheer for justice and dignity, but to actively work towards it.
I want you to notice something about these five promises we make at our baptism. If you listened closely, you may have heard that being a Christian is really not merely a nice hobby, an alternative past time, or a popular gathering of like-minded folks. There are plenty of human endeavors out there to suit those kinds of needs and they don’t have nearly as many expectations. Being a Christian means we must be and do, we must really follow Jesus. We must not just say “we will,” we must own these promises ourselves, and we must live them. There a lot of expectations associated with life of discipleship and unfortunately, we sometimes forget that fact. So here we are in Advent, waiting and expecting the coming of Our Lord, and today we welcome two new members into Christ’s Body the church. Today is a reminder for each of us to take seriously our baptismal promises and live them out by continuing, persevering, proclaiming, seeking, serving, and striving to be examples of the grace, God has given us in baptism.