Sermon on Matthew 3:1-12

By Pastor April, Delivered December 5, 2010 Many of you are aware that I’ve spent the past few weeks moving into our new house in Clintonville. After seven years, we left our house on the west side of town and have relocated to a wonderful older home near Whetstone high school. We are so excited about the new place – to raise our son there, to be closer to the church and to be near the parks and the bike path… but moving – It’s no secret – it’s no fun. And not just because of all the work that it takes to relocate your physical stuff, but there’s another element involved. Something happens when you have to take a good hard look at all the stuff you’ve accumulated – as you are packing up a house, you are also evaluating the things you are packing. Is this worth taking with me? Am I making good use of this?  What do I keep? What do I give away? How do I ensure that I’m keeping the stuff that matters and leaving behind the stuff that doesn’t?

And once you’ve wrestled with what you must leave behind and what you need to take with you, it’s time to clean. Moving some how also reveals all the dirt that you hadn’t really been paying attention to – all those spots behind the couch or the bed that you haven’t seen in years. You have to do a LOT of cleaning. I have spent hours over the last few weeks scrubbing toilets, cleaning shelves, and preparing the new house for us to live there. And I find myself asking the question – how did I let it get this bad? And in the new house, I ask the same thing – how did the previous owners let it get this bad?

Leaving behind the junk and preparing space for the new…

And it’s not a process that happens overnight. It’s slow. Some days painfully slow. And if you happen to be a Type A person who likes order, control, and cleanliness – you will likely be very frustrated.

But it’s an important process of change – and if you take your time to do it well – the end result can be really fabulous.

So, when I read this passage today about John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness about repentance, about the coming kingdom, and about the cleansing of our sin and the preparation for the coming of Jesus – I couldn’t help but make a lot of connections to this move that I am also in.

John the Baptist had a very specific role in relation to the coming of Jesus. He was sent to get people ready. He was sent to wake them up to the reality of what was coming, so when Jesus was there – they wouldn’t miss it.  So, John’s words sound like a warning, they sound like a wake-up call, a reality check - Jesus is coming and people need to get ready - they are to take a good hard look at themselves – a good honest look and to prepare for this arrival. In a sense, they need to get their house in order - To clean house, to make space, to get rid of the things that would impede their ability to receive the coming Jesus and to open themselves up to what is to come.

John talks about repentance. Repentance and the confession of sins were also familiar concepts in Jewish communities.  Repentance was actually a foundational concept in Judaism meaning to return to God and obedience to his law. It’s not just about changing your mind. It is about literally turning around and going the other direction.

And so John is telling people – take a good hard look at yourself – where is the junk you’ve been carrying around that you need to get rid of, where are the things that are keeping you from moving forward, where are the areas that need some serious cleansing?

Name those things, confess your sins and … with a sincere heart – turn around and go the other direction.

The baptism, the immersion in water was an outward sign of the inward change that had already taken place.

And John is quick to tell us that this is just the first part. The confession of sins, the repentance and turning away from the junk in our lives, the baptism even… it’s all about serving a greater purpose.

It’s all about preparing the way for God to enter our lives. John says “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

The reason that we are to clear this junk out of our lives, to confess our sins and move on and leave these things behind is that it makes us more open and available to the incredibly good gifts that God has to bring us.

John says that Jesus is coming and he will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The more space in our own lives that we clear out, the more of the junk that we leave behind, the more space there is for the Spirit to work and move and create in us the kinds of good things that we were created for.

This Advent season is a time of preparation – preparing to receive the Christ child anew in our lives. And John reminds us today that a part of that preparation is the work we have to do in our own hearts and our own lives.

As you come to this time of Communion – there are probably lots of things that we could think about – but I want to invite you to consider just one. What is the one thing that is keeping you from making space for the living God to move in your life?  What is the piece of junk that you’ve been carrying around with you for years and you haven’t been willing to let go of? What is the sin that you haven’t been entirely honest with yourself about? What is one thing that you want to repent from? To turn the other way and to not look back?  Name that today as you come forward for communion. Say that to God and ask for the Spirit to help you leave it behind and fill that space and void with more of the things that God is desiring for you this season.

And if you feel led, just as John invited people to be baptized as a sign of this repentant heart, if you desire to receive communion and then go to the baptismal font and touch the water –allow that to be an outward symbol of the desire in your own heart to make space for the living God in our midst.