Preparing for a New Start
Sermon for Advent 2, Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
With the Christmas trees up and decorated, the Christmas lights going on
in towns around the country, preparations are well underway for Christmas.
We buy presents, we send cards, some of us make puddings and Christmas cakes, we get on the internet to send presents to our friends and family, we start panicking about everything that there is left to do, the wives complain that the men aren’t helping with the Christmas shopping, we all start preparing for Christmas in our own ways and with our own little family rituals.
And so easily, the preparations and the food and festivities become Christmas itself
We mistake the lights and the presents, the trees and the food (and drink) as Christmas itself. In the US now it’s very common to wish someone ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Happy Christmas’, so we don’t upset any sensitivities. It another make of how we can so easily take Christ out of Christmas and secularise its true meaning and significance.
It’s almost like we have a case of mistaken identity, mistaking the trappings and peripheries of Christmas for Christmas itself.
In a way it’s just like the relationship the Jews had with the law. They mistook the law for the message, rather than seeing and understanding it was pointing to the message (the Messiah) itself.
John the Baptist is under no illusion. He knows what the message is about; it’s about the Messiah who is just about to appear.
The people of Israel need to step up their preparations because the Messiah is about to come.
And in encouraging the people of Israel to prepare he offers them a new beginning – an opportunity repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
The Jews know all about the need for forgiveness, that’s why they had a major festival, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. The book of Leviticus describes the process in great detail.
Two goats were taken, one was sacrificed outside the city wall and the other, the scapegoat, with the sins of the people of Israel on its back was led into the wilderness.
Now, from that same wilderness comes John, who talks about baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
The Jews too were familiar with baptism, not for the forgiveness of sins, but for welcoming Gentiles into the Jewish faith. It was Gentiles that were baptised, not Jews. Baptism marked a new beginning for Gentiles coming into the Jewish faith. For the Jews this was a real change, a real wake up call that something was changing. In the words of Narnia, that winter was ending and spring was coming
Advent is the time when we prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas and His return in glory
But it’s also a time of new beginnings. It marks the beginning of the new Church year
The gifts that we have given for our mission project this year, and continue to give over the next few weeks, offer new beginnings and hope to those that MAF are able to serve because of them. Through our gifts they are able to provide transport to those who give care and show God’s love to people who it would be very difficult to reach otherwise. Often reaching people without hope and offering new beginnings of faith and health as we were hearing just a few weeks ago
John was offering the Jews a chance at a completely new beginning. Not through the symbolic baptism with water but through the life changing baptism of the Holy Spirit that the Messiah would bring and through that an offer of a restored relationship with God
The gospel tells us that many of them did repent and were indeed baptised by John with water as a sign and symbol of that new beginning. Just as many of us too have been baptised with water as the sign of the new beginning of our faith
As we go through Advent, as we prepare for Christmas and all the joys and festivities that it will bring, we should not loose sight of the true meaning of Christmas and the new beginning that Christ’s coming brings and offers to everyone
May be we don’t need a completely fresh start like the Jews, may be we don’t need a fresh start in our Christian journey, but perhaps there are small parts of our lives that we’d like to make a fresh start with, things we’d like to change so that we enter the new year as a slightly different person. A person with a slightly different view of a particular aspect of live. And all we have to do is to say we are sorry, acknowledge our shortcoming before God and move off in a new direction. The people that John spoke to did and so can we.
Jesus offers everyone that opportunity. A fresh start, not just with the big things of life, but with small things too. Perhaps things which we’ve got out of perspective and misunderstood, perhaps some of the peripheral things which we’ve let become too much the centre of our lives rather than the things which should be central themselves
In out Christian lives we’re on a journey which will not be complete until the message of Advent is complete and Jesus does return in all His power and glory, we’re always going to be making small new beginnings every step of the way as we prepare for His coming (or our going, which ever may be the sooner!)
Our preparations will never be complete, we will continue to be preparing until that time, with; lots of small new beginnings in our lives as we slowly and continually, but also perceptibly, turn more and more towards God, as our own bent ways become straighter and straighter and our own human roughness gets smoothed by the constant rubbing of Christ in our lives