John the Baptist appears, with crazy camel’s hair cloak and food of locusts and wild honey. He echoes another prophet, Elijah, who also lived in the desert, and who is invoked by yet a third prophet, Malachi, who says that Elijah will return before the Messiah comes, before God appears to save us.
So John the Baptist, the echo of Elijah baptizes with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This baptism of repentance is where we make a decision for God, we make a change for a new day, we place our allegiance in God’s camp; we place our allegiance toward honor and integrity and compassion and hope.
But now John the Baptist says, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me, I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
In other words, Jesus’s baptism will be about more than just us. Now, it is God who decides, God who brings about a new day, God who claims us and our allegiance for God’s honor, God’s integrity, God’s compassion, God’s hope.
Yes, the more powerful one is coming. But what a strange, upside down kind of power! For example, in the verses immediately after the Gospel lesson for today, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. The one who is not worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals, that’s the one who baptizes Jesus. And the heavens are torn open and the Holy Spirit comes and says “You are Son, the Beloved.”
That’s the upside down power of God. So also nowadays, in our crazy world, God sends us unworthy people to prepare God’s way. For example, last Friday Jesus showed up at the door. This time Jesus was trying to get down to Tennessee to take care of her mother because her mother had COPD and maybe cancer, but she wouldn’t go to the doctor because you know how mothers can be sometimes, really stubborn. But she needed someone to take care of her. So Jesus was going down and she needed some gas to help her along the way.
I invited her into my office and I listened for a while and we prayed. I said that this was a powerful thing she was doing, and courageous too because her mother might not live much longer and a daughter and a mother have a deep bond so it hurts to think about your mother dying, but she was going to be there for her.
And tears came into her eyes, and she said, “Thank you.” And the heavens came down.
You did this. You made this possible to happen. Because we had an office to sit in that had warmth and lights in it, that David our custodian had cleaned. Rebecca was able to take care of the administration of the church and telephones so I would focus on her. God did this through you, through the money you give and the time you give and the attitude and the prayer you give so that Rebecca can be there and David can be there, not to mention the Kroger card that one of you slipped me two weeks ago, and the bit of money that another of you slipped to me this week so I could go to the gas station and fill her car with gas. Yes, God does this sort of thing all the time through you, both here and in your daily life.
Us unworthy people, meeting Jesus all the time, making times and moments when the heavens open and God comes down. You may not see it. You may not ever know. But God works through you. “Behold, I send my messenger, to prepare the way. . .Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”