Preparation time 4:
The Birth of John the Baptist
“Preparing ourselves for the next year in the struggle…”
(Song introducing the sermon:) Greatly Blessed; Highly Favored; Imperfect; But Forgiven Child of God///Standing upright; On God’s Good Earth; Counting My Blessings, Great Things He Has Done; Fighting the good fight; With the Blessed Assurance; That the Battle is Already Won!
We are halfway between the celebration of the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego and the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ in the time of preparation for the year that is to come. On this day we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. This event on this day of the year is a kind of road sign on our journey that tells how to prepare ourselves – for John was born to “make the way ready for the coming of Jesus.”
How do we make ourselves ready for the Lord to come into our lives this year?
You get behind on your payments – then someone comes and offers you a new deal: you can start over with a new payment plan. It’s going to be hard to make the payments, but you have a chance now, you can work your way out of this mess. You accept the offer. That is what John would do for his people: give them a chance to return to their faith and start over, a chance to have their debts forgiven – and to forgive each other.
You see, last week when we celebrated the Virgin, we celebrated her perfect faith. That is an inspiration to us. But we are not perfect – none of us here. Neither is our faith perfect. Yet something has drawn us together, here in this church.
Many of us have found protection here – protection from the broken law, from the arrogant nation which still thinks it has a right to call a human being illegal, to break up a family that God put together. And from this blessed little community, this family of families, God has given us work to do, a message to deliver to our people. Yet how can we be expected to do God’s work, with all of our problems, all of our imperfections? How can we be worthy of the blessings of his protections?
We turn for our answers to the story of the birth of John the Baptist for the family of families we celebrate in this Holy season – Mary and Joseph and Jesus, Zechariah and Elizabeth and John – was also blessed, also imperfect, and yet commissioned to bring salvation and liberation to their people.
John the Baptist, born to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, miraculously in her old age, offers us another kind of promise and another kind of challenge. From the tired old bones of Zechariah and Elizabeth came a powerful voice from the grassroots who would go out to mobilize and energize a discouraged and oppressed people. Their faith had been undermined by their own religious leadership who had become corrupt, comfortable and were deeply compromised to their Roman conquerors.
John called for the people to return to their faith and offered them a sacrament of baptism in the river – far away from the temple where the leadership dressed in fine clothes and claimed to represent the God who had once saved them from their oppressors in Egypt. When some of those leaders came around to watch, John called them hypocrites and snakes and asked them, “Who told you about the God that saves his people?”
When John was born, his father Zechariah was suddenly able to speak. Remember he had been struck silent when he refused to believe that his old wife would have this son that was promised. Now he was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak a prophecy.
Zechariah prophesied that John would give the people knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of sins. This would make the Way Ready for Jesus to renew their faith and free them from their enemies.
I returned late last night from Alabama where our people are in struggle against a very repressive state law. Emma went on to South Carolina, where she is today, participating in the struggle of the people there also facing a wicked law.
I was also in Alabama to try and get a national organization meeting there to do in cities across the country the same work we are doing here in this church. You see, we began the fight for Obama to use his discretion to stop the deportations here, in this church, over a year ago. And we know that finally that demand was successful.
What is needed now is for people to learn how to use this defense and to pressure Homeland Security to live up to what Obama has promised. I am glad to say that we were successful in our effort to get these organizations around the country to take up the defense of the families in the same way you are doing here.
Yet it was difficult. Difficult, because many people lack hope. They have been lied to and betrayed. Sometimes it seems like no one is on their side. And then they have their own problems for so many live in a web of jealousy and selfishness. Sometimes behind every face I see the story of a broken life
So how can imperfect people do God’s work? The answer to that question is in the prophecy around John the Baptist. John was to offer the people knowledge of salvation through forgiveness. They would line up by the thousands to be baptized in the river. Each would feel that God was forgiving them for their sins, giving them a chance to restart their lives, rededicate their hearts, and heal their relationships. John would bring them the news that they had a forgiving God that would give them a new chance. This God would also say, “Forgive each other as I forgive you.” In other words, John was saying God will forgive you your imperfections but you must also forgive each other – so that your relationships, your families can start over, turn the page, begin again.
Hope is powerful. The lack of hope can destroy your life, but hope can give you strength to overcome all difficulties. Yet hope for things to change depends on each of us having faith and hope that WE can change and that our relationships with each other can change. If you don’t believe you can change then you will be without hope that your family and friends can change. Then if you don’t think your friends and family can change, you will lack the faith to believe the world you live in can be changed.
But you CAN change! That is the Good News! Some of you are nodding your heads because it has happened to you.Your life has been turned around by the faith, your families saved.
You know you can be a better person this year! Don’t worry about what you have been, because God is offering you forgiveness and telling you to start over, telling you that you can be the person He needs you to be?
How do I know – because I know that, without a doubt, GOD IS NOT A BANKER! Bankers may not forgive your debt and let you start over. BUT GOD IS NOT A BANKER! God offers you forgiveness so that you can be a changed person. He asks you to forgive each other so that your relationships can change. All you have to do is ask him!
We are in the time of preparation for the year to come, preparation for God to come into your lives. Mighty things will happen in your lives and in the world this year – but you must be ready.
Some won’t accept God’s offer of forgiveness this year. We may love them but we will have to move on without them. We have work to do and lives to live.
Look around you! God has blessed you and protected you – not because of what you did in the past but because of what you will do in the future. It is a new year, in your lives, in the struggle. Get ready to start fresh. You CAN change, You CAN be a better person. You can have a better relationship with each other, You can be part of a better family, a better church, a better people.
I know this hope is true, that each of us can change, because I have witnessed it. And I know that God can work through you, if you seek his forgiveness, to establish amazing things on THIS earth. Don’t give up on yourself – because God hasn’t. A new year is coming, the sun is going to rise in the morning – and it is His sun! We live in His World and he has chosen you to bless and protect and be the instruments of his love and salvation.
Because you are:
Greatly Blessed; Highly Favored; Imperfect; But Forgiven Child of God///Standing upright; On God’s Good Earth; Counting My Blessings, Great Things He Has Done; Fighting the good fight; With the Blessed Assurance; That the Battle is Already Won!
Scriptures for Preparation Time 4
Luke 1: 57-66 The Birth of John the Baptist
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John. They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name. Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
Luke 1: 67-80 Zechariah’s Song
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn[c] of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. And the child grew and became strong in spirit[d]; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
Isaiah 40:1-5 Comfort for God’s People
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”