The Expectations of John the Baptizer

Worship on the Lord’s Day
Second Sunday of Advent      04 December 2022, 10:00 am
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Online & Onsite (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev. Brad Childs
Music Director: Binu Kapadia           Vocalist: Fionna McCrostie
Elder: Sam Malayang

We gather to worship God

Music prelude

Greeting
L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship

Lighting of the Advent Candle (Peace) and Call to Worship
L: The light shines in the darkness,
P: We come to worship, seeking the peace of Christ.
L: Shine into our lives and your world this  Advent.
P: Renew in us Jesus’ call to be peacemakers this day.

Opening praise: Hope is a star (119)

Prayers of approach and confession

Our God, you are the loving mother of those who knew not one. You are the perfection the mother who loved us, wished to be for us. You are the Father. Not the wonderful or perhaps less than, man in our lives, but rather the one all father’s wish that they could be.

You, Lord, are the Spirit within us, we wish we could be on our own but cannot.

We approach you boldly, recognizing that we fall short.

We approach you because we believe that you are both unknowable and beyond and yet also revealed fully in Christ, your Son, who called us friends, siblings and heirs to the grace of you, our eternal devotion.

We come to you this morning admitting our wrongs.

We are not exactly as we wish we were.

We are not exactly as you have hoped for us.

We fail.

We make mistakes.

We think too much of self and not enough of others.

We harm people, even those you have given us to love and care for.

We mean well – we self protect – we overreact.

We don’t do, and aren’t what, we are truly capable of in you.

God forgive us. Take us in your fatherly arms. Speak your Spirit’s words into our lives and prayers. Hold us in the embrace of a perfect mother’s hug.

Show us our wrongs, not because we seek them but because we seek to improve upon them.

Lord, forgive us our sins.

Help us see, confront, and change them.

Help us be a least a little more worthy of a love we can never earn but freely accept.

For the sake of your son, we confess and in his forgiveness we trust. – Amen!

Response: I waited, I waited on You, Lord

Assurance of God’s grace

1 John 1:9 tell us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Tomorrow is a new day. Two seconds from now is just the same.

Begin anew, know forgiveness, and start over, born again. – Amen!

We listen for the voice of God

Song: There’s a voice in the wilderness crying (128)

Scripture readings (NRSV): Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12

Response: My Lord He’s a’comin’ soon

Message: “The expectations of John the Baptizer”

John the Baptist was wrong about Jesus – not about Jesus being the Messiah but about what that meant.

And he isn’t alone. From time to time, we all are (wong about Jesus). We’re in good company. But… who is John exactly?

John the Baptist or perhaps more accurately as one of my Catholic Friends suggests John the Baptizer (not Baptist like the denomination down the street), was from a priestly family. His father was Zacharias. And Zacharias was a member of the officially recognized Temple priesthood (the Cohen). John’s mother, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron (the brother of Moses).

Together Zacharias, Elizabeth and John lived in a sleepy village located in the south hill country of Judah. It was kind of like living in the suburbs and seeing your father commuting for work. That is basically how John grew up. Essentially it was an upper-middle class family but with a considerable amount of community respect (and prying eyes, no doubt).

Because of Zacharias’ priestly position, the family would have had far more food than the typical family at the time. It’s not that they had money. They really didn’t.

The family lived outside the hustle and bustle of the big city but also lived near enough for father Zacharias to travel daily in order to perform his Temple duties in Jerusalem. As per his post, John’s father would have been involved in the maintenance of the Temple and along with the other priests would take turns conducting the services. John’s father would also take turns at accepting the sacrifices people brought (the meat of which would under certain circumstances been partially split between the large collection of serving priests).

The position of John’s father, Zacharias, also meant a great place of honor among the people, not because of his particular duties but rather because once in a lifetime each priest would be allowed to care for the inner most section of the Temple. And this was a big deal.

This meant that John the Baptist’s father once likely did what only a very select number of people ever did. He entered the Holiest Place within the Temple. He would have lit the incense (which kept the room filled with smoke) near the Holy of Holies; the area where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. This was important. Because of the smoke, it would be impossible to even accidentally catch a glimpse of the Judgment Seat (a place where it was believed, God himself would sit). Were the smoke not there, the people believed that they might see God and immediately die.

Zacharias would be responsible for replacing the shewbread [special bread always present in the tabernacle (and later in the temple)] on the table (much like elders do with our communion bread). And while we will go into this in depth in a few months, they also tied a rope around him before he entered in order to drag him out just in case he failed to serve properly in some way and fell dead on the spot.

But… that is for another day.

For now, let’s just say that priests were not wealthy. But they did have some rather fine things.

At a time when dyed clothes were one of the most expensive things a person could own, the high priest for example dressed in gold, blue, purple, and red. Zacharias, John’s dad, had an ephod [linen apron worn in ancient Hebrew rites] dipped in many colors.

Zacharias wore this ephod with shoulder straps which some commentators say closely resembled a kilt. Each shoulder had 6 precise stones (six on one side and six upon the other) and each one was engraved with the names of 6 of the 12 tribes with the other six on the other side. (Read [the Book of] Revelation again and you will see this theme repeated).

Zacharias wore a breastplate made of linen with gold, blue, purple, and red and attached to it were solid gold rings and gold chains. A double square apron sat atop this with 12 different precious stones embedded inside it (no easy task at the time). A blue and purple robe was attached to this and was decorated with bells so that people could follow the Priests’ movements even in the dark.

He also had a coat of fine linen and a turban with a plate of pure gold on it (skillfully carved into the shape of a flower).

Oh, and as it tells us in Exodus 39 “even their underwear” was “embroidered with fine needlework.”  Atop it all, a beautiful sash would identify specific priestly rank much like one might find in the Roman Catholic tradition.

This is the family that John the Baptist was raised in. And it was an honorable and probably difficult way to live a childhood (ask any minister’s kids).

People generally know the words Pharisee and Sadducee. While most people know the Pharisees and Sadducees (at least in name), these were not the only kinds of Jewish sects within the early first century. Like today’s Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and so on there were different groups.

Of the main four branches of Judaism (Essenes, Zealots, Sadducees, and Pharisees), it is the Essenes that are perhaps the most interesting when it comes to John.

The Essenes were a group of Hebrew people who refused to go to the official Temple. Instead, they built a kind of monastery out in the middle of the desert where no government had particular control. [The Essene community is known as Qumran – and was located in what we now know as “the West Bank.”]

In this “wilderness” as the bible often calls it, the Essenes built massive libraries (where our earliest copies of the scriptures have been found). In this ancient version of a Jewish monastery the community shared everything. In fact, the proxy-temple they had built even had its own treasury.

In other words. Though there were synagogues where people could learn and yet only one temple to attend in the world for high holidays, the Essenes built a place of worship with a temple-tax – just like the one in Jerusalem. Interestingly the treasury of the Essenes was filled almost exclusively with Tetra Drachmas [a large silver coin that originated in Ancient Greece. It was about equivalent to four drachmas. Two drachmas were required as payment of the Jerusalem Temple’s tax.]

Now let me be clear. There was but one place the Jewish people believed God could be met. And yet, the Essene communities appear to have seen themselves as a kind of substitute temple and even accepted funds from those who didn’t wish to support the official place of worship.

As more and more people began to openly reject the Official Temple in Jerusalem and its official priests, the Essene community grew. These Hebrews, looked forward to a time when God would no longer restrict himself to the Temple in Jerusalem. And they saw God working outside the traditional system.

Since we gather today as worshipers of a Jewish Messiah, I’d say they were ahead of their time.

Jesus made us the Official Temple, not a building but a people, whoever and wherever, seeking God’s Kingdom on earth.

But why did the Essenes do this – ‘cause this is a big deal!!!

Well, it wasn’t the Temple or the priests themselves that the Essenes rejected. They were very faithful to the law.

It was the Roman occupation that bothered them. You see, at John’s time, the Temple was officially under Roman control. A foreign army had come in and taken control. And although the Hebrew people were, for a time, technically allowed to continue their own forms of worship, Caesar had taxed the Temple a yearly fee.

As the people flooded into the Temple to (for example) celebrate the festival of the Passover (a celebration of the peoples’ freedom from Egyptian oppression) the people did so very ironically under the thumb of Roman oppression.

The whole ceremony was, at least in some sense, a sham!

And when the otherwise faithful worshipers paid tribute to their Temple for the work of caring for widows and orphans (for example), Rome just swooped in and looted a share.

When the Hebrew priests wished to perform a ceremony in Jerusalem, and they needed their priestly garb, they didn’t have it. They actually had to ask Herod Antipas’ (Rome’s puppet king of the Jews) for permission first, just to gain access their own robes because Rome kept them locked in a special room that the priests had no access too.

There was religious freedom – except there wasn’t.

The Essenes lived out in the desert and flourished. And in order to remain pure they never went into the city but stayed separated from non-Jews people completely. According to their official “Manual of Discipline” the Qumran community of Essenes had a kind of mission statement that they chanted daily. It was a quotation from Isaiah 40:3. – “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths.”

The Essenes spoke principally about the coming age of the Messiah (which they called “the Kingdom of Light”). You see, pious Jews did not wish to risk taking the “Lord’s name in vain” and so they would never say “Kingdom of God.” So they substituted other words, like “kingdom of heaven” as a kind of code. Therefore, in the gospels, the gentile writer Luke, notes Jesus speaking about the “Kingdom of God”, while the Jewish author Matthew, notes Jesus speaking of the “Kingdom of Heaven”.

“Kingdom of light” and “kingdom of heaven” were the most common versions of this code. But all three phrases mean the same thing – The Reign of the Messiah, the time when things would be set right.

The Essenes were also unique in that they practiced a kind of ritual purification whenever new members came out into the desert to join them in search of this Messianic “Kingdom” to come. It was a ritual bath called a Mikveh (a symbolic act of washing away the old self). These were generally done in one in the Miqvoth baths they had built to catch flash flood water and rain. And it was a symbol that one had joined the community and devoted their life to its search for the Lord’s “Chosen One.”

While the New Testament nowhere refers to John the Baptist directly as an Essene, you can see how closely he resembles one.

In any case John is not a finely dressed priest like his father but rather like a fairly poor man. Though he should have inherited the same position as his father around the age of 30, he didn’t, and we don’t know why.

Probably to his Priestly Father’s chagrin (John) his son is often heard saying things like “he who has two cloaks let him give one to the poor.” His father would have had a few.

Though he grew up upper-middle class and associated with the Holy Temple, John isn’t financially secure. He is essentially homeless, and he personally owns nothing (likely sharing everything with the community). John wore the rough camel hair clothing of a desert dweller (a place where it was generally too hard to keep sheep). And we are told, John ate one of the four types of kosher locusts that Hebrews were allowed to eat (a kind of rare exception; allowed only for the poorest of poor).

Be assured that we are not told about John’s coat without reason. Camel hair was woven into coarse cloth by those who couldn’t even afford the common clothing made of wool. And while the rich could afford ornate and embroidered waistbands, a poor man would wear a leather belt.

The Bible also tells us that John ate wild honey. Bees of course don’t live in the desert and “wild honey” is probably a local expression. Many theologians believe that the expression “wild honey” more accurately designates “date honey,” a kind of jam-like paste that was kept in jars. If so, it’s important to note that once again, it was the food of the poor because this particular kind of bitter fig grew wild rather than being cultivated for profit.

Now maybe John was an Essene. Maybe he was not. I think he probably was. No matter what, John is, in many ways, the exact opposite of his father. No matter what, John was a man who had given up every rightful opportunity to join the official royal priesthood; a man who had given up not just a life of wealth but a life of security and certainly the occasional fine food and more than beautiful clothes and had done so for what – for bugs and rags!

John, extremely unique or not, becomes the voice in the wilderness – a radical preacher proclaiming, “make straight the paths,” baptizing or giving Mikveh to legions of follower in the River Jordan and gathering a very large following as he went. And just what was the message that John proclaimed?

A message that would make him give up everything. It was one of absolute humility. Well, he starts with what we might expect… “Make straight the path” or “Get ready”. But after that it was “Someone else is coming, someone whom I am not even good enough to carry his sandals.” It is for Him that John would throw it all away. He, John said, would turn the world upside-down: “the one,” John said, “who would give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, the deaf hear, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, proclaim good news to the poor and release the captives from prison.” But his message was to be short lived.

John saw the Messiah coming in judgment over Rome to free the Jewish people and its Temple from Roman rule… and he became brash, vocal, and very loud.

And because John believed with all of his heart that he had found “the one,” he wasn’t worried at all (even when he openly confronted Herod Antipas [Rome’s puppet king] and his choice of wives). With a raging voice, John condemned Herod without so much as an ounce of fear. The Messiah (the One) after all, was near, and He would judge with an iron fist. John had nothing to worry about.

But John was wrong. Or so it seemed. Though Herod did fear a revolt of the Jews, his wife (who had been accused, by John, of an inappropriate relationship because she was previously married to Herod’s brother) was not so easily ignored. Eventually Herod had John arrested and thrown into the dungeon beneath Herod’s royal palace at Machaerus [ where john was eventually beheaded].

With things not going quite as smoothly as he had hoped, John sends his remaining disciples to find Jesus to ask Him one very important question: “Are you the one?” a question he sent (again) in a kind of code. You see what’s most interesting about this conversation, which we read about, today, is not what John and Jesus say: it’s what they don’t say.

John gave up everything he had and proclaimed a Messiah who might come with judgment on sinners and with compassion for the repentant. “Repent for the Day of Judgment is at hand!” he cried. But thus far, he has heard only of compassion and John is confused. He sends his disciples to Jesus with the following message, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

John’s words are confusing, and they can be taken many ways. Some say that John is actually angry with Jesus – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Hey Messiah, they are going to kill me! What are you waiting for?) Others say that John was once sure of Jesus but is now filled with doubt, “Are you the one who is to come?”

It’s hard to tell exactly how this sentence was meant. After all John had baptized Jesus. John recognized Jesus as the Messiah at that baptism (Matthew 3:13-15). John… heard the voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). In the gospel of John the disciple (1:34), John the Baptizer says, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (so sure of himself that he actually used the name of God). In John 1:35-39 it says that John the Baptist told his disciples to look at Jesus and called him the “Lamb of God” and then some of John’s own disciples left John and followed Jesus instead (because they agreed with John and because they too were so sure that John was right about Jesus being the Messiah).

Now, I don’t know about you, but here at least, John doesn’t sound to me much like a man with doubts about who Jesus is. So what would make him question Jesus is this way?

As I said before John’s words are kind of like a code. He had been preaching the same message over and over again and it is clear that he truly believed Jesus to be “the one”. He had been preaching that the messiah would come and overturn the rule of the wicked and punish the oppressors. He said of the Messiah “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12). John just knew that Jesus had come to bring the “unquenchable fire” on the oppressors of the Temple (the oppressors of his own priestly father and his birthright).

And John like the Essenes in the desert repeated the mantras of Isaiah in claiming that “the one” would “give sight to the blind, make the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, proclaim good news to the poor, and release the captives from prison.” That was John’s list: “give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, the deaf hear, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, proclaim good news to the poor and release the captives from prison.” That is what the One, the Savior, the Judge, the Messiah will do… “Release… the captives from prison!”

When John says, “are you the one,” there is a kind of code there. Essentially, he asks, “Are you going to get me out of jail?” I thought you would get me out of jail! Was I wrong? Are you “the One” or not? And it’s a totally reasonable question

Jesus isn’t turning out to be exactly what John wanted him to be. And he’s not sure what to do with that.

But just as John asks his question in code, Jesus responds in code. He feeds this list right back to John. In our reading from Matthew 11 v4-6 it says, “Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’” Wait a minute John will say, there’s something rather important missing from that list. Jesus leaves one line out of that list! What about “release the captives from prison”? And what’s this “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” about?

See John asks, “Are you the one that’s here to do all these miracles?” “Are you the one coming in judgment… the one that’s going to reclaim the Temple and take Herod’s place as King.” “Are you the one that’s come to get me out of prison and toss the unrepentant into the unquenchable fire?”

And Jesus says, “I am the one… but it won’t all happen at once and not exactly as you think…” Basically he answers – you’re staying in prison John.”

He says, I am the one… but I don’t follow your rules, I won’t play your games, I won’t work on your timetable, and I won’t be exactly what you expect me to be. And “Blessed is anyone that can handle that fact.” “Blessed is anyone that does not stumble on account of me” when I don’t appear to be exactly what you expect me to be.

Jesus the Christ was born to a first-century peasant Jewish family. He was put in farmer’s food box and covered with torn strips of cloth. He lived the life of a poor child, and a refugee, roamed the holy land as a homeless man and died a disgraced criminal’s death. He doesn’t much seem like the Savior of the world. And so the world will always ask what is a totally reasonable question.

Through our many ups and downs of life we will all ask that question at one time or another. Is he really the one? because things don’t always go the way we’d like, and God will not fit into the little boxes we make for Him. But the answer will always be the same as well. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Thanks be to God for being not just what we want Him to be – the King on the Throne, but even better… who we need Him to be, The One in the manger, the One on the cross, and the One walking away from an empty grave. -Amen!

Song: Lord, make us servants (739)

We respond to serve God

Reflection on giving: We have been giving faithfully since the beginning of the pandemic and we are committed to continuing the ministry and mission that define Dayspring – using the various ways described on the screen and in Dayspring Weekly News. Thank you all for your support of our shared vision and mission. For those in the sanctuary, if you have offering envelopes with you, simply put them in the offering plate at the back of the sanctuary as you leave the service today.


Prayer of gratitude

Many hands have touched these offerings, many of which we saw at work just yesterday, Lord. Some tough; some tender, some large, some small. Here we bring before you the work of these hands in many forms – tangible and not so tangible. Lord Bless these gifts Lord by Your will. Multiply them for your service and help us to best use them. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. – Amen!

Transitional music

Prayer for others and ourselves

Lord as your story is retold and carols are sung, we hail the time appointed, and declare that your reign on earth has begun. The perfect Kingdom is already and still not yet. It is here with us and yet not fully realized. That is why our lord we ask for your strength. We ask for the strength to be the body of Christ present in the world in a way that cannot be ignored. Make our hands the hands to cloth the naked, and feed the hungry. Make our shoulders the ones that others can cry on. Make our words, words of kindness. And in everything be with us all, one family with One Father in Heaven. – Amen!

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Invitation: Christ invites all his baptized people who trust in Christ as their Savior to dine at his table, where he will feed them with himself by the Holy Spirit. Come to receive all the benefits and blessings of his atoning death, his life-giving resurrection, and his ascended lordship.

We come to the table not just as individuals but as a community. By sharing the loaf and the cup, Christ makes us one with him and with each other.

Song: Jesus calls us here to meet Him (528)

We affirm our faith: The Apostles Creed (539)

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer (sung – 469)

Communion Prayer

With joy we praise you, gracious Father, for you have created heaven and earth, made us in your image, and kept covenant with us –  even when we fell into sin.

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord, whose coming opened to us the way of salvation and whose triumphant return we eagerly await.

Therefore, we join our voices with all the saints and angels and the whole creation  to proclaim the glory of your name.

In breaking bread and drinking wine Jesus told us to remember him. In this action called Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, Christ offers himself to us and we present ourselves to him in worship and adoration.

In Holy Communion Christ places his table in this world to feed and bless his people. The Holy Spirit so unites us in Christ that in receiving the bread and wine in faith we share in his body and blood.

The Lord’s Supper is a joyful mystery whereby Jesus takes the bread and wine to represent his atoning sacrifice, deepening our union with himself and with each other, giving us of his life and strength. Here Christ is present in his world proclaiming salvation until he comes– a symbol of hope for a troubled age.

The Eucharist is thanksgiving to God. We pray for the world and with gratitude offer our lives to God. We celebrate his victory over death and anticipate the joyous feast we shall have in his coming kingdom. We pledge allegiance to Christ as Lord, are fed as one church, receive these signs of his love, and are marked as his. Those who belong to Christ come gladly to his table to make a memorial of his life and death, to celebrate his presence, and together as his church offer him thanks.

In the name of Jesus Son of God, Saviour, and Forgiver we pray – Amen!

Sharing of the bread and wine

Song: One Lord, one body (540)

The prayer after Communion

We praise and thank you, O Lord, that you have fed us at your Table. Grateful for your gifts and mindful of the communion of your saints, we offer to you our prayers for all people.

God of compassion, we remember before you the poor and the afflicted, the sick and the dying, prisoners and all who are lonely, the victims of war, injustice, poverty, abuse, rejection, shame and inhumanity, and all others who suffer from whatever their sufferings may be called. Make us channels of your peace and help us never forget your care over all creation in your time. – Amen!

Hymn: We cannot own the sunlit sky (717)

Sending out with God’s blessing

This Advent season, may you and all those whom you love put away your own expectations of who God is so that you may all meet again for the first time… the Light of the world who came to take all darkness away. And may the Father lead you, the son direct you, and the spirit aid you. – Amen!

Response: Go forth into the world

Music postlude

————————————————————————-

Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specified licenses with One Licence and CLC.

The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2022) on all original material presented by him. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material presented that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.

Posted in Recent Sermons.