Luke 3: 1-17
Times when we start over: When we need a new beginning GPS
The Children of Israel needed a new beginning. They had squandered the promises and blessings of God. They had walked away from their mission, to be a “light to the nations” and instead had pursued wealth and status at the expense of justice, especially for the poor. As a result of their national, collective sin, they had been exiled. Though the exile was long over, still they did not enjoy the return of their status with their return to the land. There was no descendant of David ruling in Jerusalem, only a pretender named Herod. The Romans were the real masters anyway. The children of Israel needed to start over.
John appeared in the wilderness like the winds of change. He was not sitting in the Temple in Jerusalem, profiting from the personal piety of the people. He was down by the Jordan River, not far from the place where the people of Israel first crossed into the Promised Land. He was calling for all of the people to be “baptized.” This was a strange request, for baptism was, in those days, a ritual cleansing for someone who was not Jewish to be brought into the faith. Yet John was calling for the Nation of Judea to submit to this ritual washing. It was as though John was saying, “We ALL need to start over. We ALL need to submit once again to God’s cleansing, as in the days when our forefathers wandered in the desert. In short, we need to start over. God is going to do something new with us, and that something is coming soon!”
It seems as though the people understood. They flocked to the river. They were all baptized by John. They wanted things to change. The problem is that at the same time, they had no idea that this change would not come according to their expectations. God was working again, and starting over, but God wasn’t going to work the same plan, the same way as before. So while the people were ready, even eager, for change. They were not prepared for what God was going to do. They were not prepared to meet Jesus. God was starting over. But the conversation between God and people was going to be different this time. This time, it was going to be in person.
Advent is a time for starting over. We proclaim that it is the start of a new year, and so it is. It is not the exclusive time for new beginnings, but rather it is a time when we remind ourselves that our God is a God of new beginnings. Our God starts over with us, patiently and graciously, every time we run away. Baptism is not for us a one-time event. Baptism is instead a signal of the daily struggle to start over.
The trouble is that often we do not understand that starting over means that the story will change. We cannot continue to be and to do what we have been doing. The conversation that God has with us is about to take a different direction. Perhaps this is why we must start over daily. We never quite get it right. We are not unlike the Children of Israel, gathered at the Jordan, wanting change, but wanting it at no cost.
New beginnings are not free. We must turn loose of the old in order to be grasped by the new. We must face our past with courage and honesty in order to live in a new and different future. The good news is that it is indeed with the presence of God’s Holy Spirit that all of this now happens. God continues to meet us face to face. God is not content to call to us from afar. The flood that washes us continues to flow in and through our lives. We find that this pattern of new starts becomes a daily feature of our relationship with God and, as a result, our relationship with one another. It doesn’t happen because we suddenly get things right, but because God has come to make things right for us.
We remember this in Advent because it is the season that comes before our annual celebration of God’s coming into our world and our lives. But God does not reserve his incarnation to one day or one season, nor does God limit our new starts to the four weeks of Advent. God comes to us daily. God renews us daily. We seek God out, not in order to get forgiven, but because our experience of the God who loved us so deeply as to experience both birth and death, is also the experience of the God of resurrection and life. God also has experienced our new beginnings, and has promised that we likewise will start anew.
It is because we are always Easter people that we are always Advent people as well. God’s love and forgiveness lead us to seek new starts each and every day, just as John signaled a new start for the people of Israel by the Jordan. Like them we are always tempted to see our new starts as the opportunity for others to change and for us to remain the same. But God isn’t about to let that happen. So, God comes again, and again, and again…
This message from Dr. Luke Bouman is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected] A Pass it On Project