In that past month, there have been four Sundays counting today plus Christmas morning
when we have been confronted with our old friend John the Baptist. This is one of the oddities of
what we call “Year B” in the three-year lectionary cycle. While we certainly get a couple of doses
of John in other years, this particular series of readings feels a bit unrelenting! But rather than
rolling our eyes and giving in to a serious case of John-fatigue, perhaps we should stop and
wonder why this might be?
Our gospels do a good job of calling on the prophets of old to foretell the birth of the
messiah. I hate to disappoint, but many of those foretellings are actually pointing to something or
someone else. I don’t think our gospel writers necessarily misused the Hebrew scriptures, but they
did use them for their own purposes.
So, there is really only one prophet whose intention and purpose are absolutely clear, and
that is John the Baptist. And as I said in my children’s sermon last week, John had one job and
one job only: to point to Jesus and tell us to get ready. John, the six-months- older cousin of Jesus
was absolutely certain that God was about to do a new thing, that the people of Israel couldn’t just
keep on going the way they were. If they were going to be free, liberated from the oppression of
the religious authorities and, behind them, imperial Rome, they needed to repent, to turn around.
And the people did just that. We don’t know how many he reached, but Mark tells us that the
“people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to
him” (Mark 1:5), and they were getting washed in the river Jordan.
John tells them all that he is not the One, that he is not worthy to even untie his shoes, that
he is just pointing the way. And then, the One to whom he points is there, wading out into the
waters of the Jordan River. Theologians have debated for centuries about why Jesus did this. If
Jesus was the sinless one, why did he stoop so low as to be baptized?
Oh, I don’t know, why did God stoop so low as to become human in the first place?
For now, let’s let the theologians argue that one out and simply settle on Jesus
demonstrating his full participation in his humanity, and so he went to John, just as did all the
But this One was different, just as John had promised. Heaven ripped open, the dove
descended, and then came the voice, naming Jesus the Beloved.
As many of you know, I am heavily engaged in social media platforms – Twitter,
Instagram, Facebook – and because of this, I watch an inordinate number of cute puppy videos
and livestream feeds of such enlightening things as Fiona the baby hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Beyond sweet animal clips, every now and then I come across something that stops me in my
tracks. A while back, a video was shared with me that showed a little girl with her back to the
camera. She was on her knees, with stuffed animals arrayed about her, and she was praying the
But her version of the Lord’s Prayer was not exactly as we know it. She prayed, “Our
Father, who art in heaven, that’ll be my name.” (I have not been able to find this clip again!)
Now, this could just be one of those cute kids-misunderstanding- churchy-words things,
kind of like when I was a girl and thought that the hymn “Lead on, o king eternal” was actually
“Lead on, o King E. Turtle,” but I happen to think this little girl is on to something.
We are, every last one of us, beloved of God. We are baptized into the household of God
and called by name, called Beloved, and we can then lay claim our new identity – that’ll be my
And if we, like Jesus, are beloved of God, then we live out that love by doing the things
Jesus did: bringing Good News, loving our neighbor, feeding the poor, healing the sick, visiting
the imprisoned. If we claim “that’ll be my name,” it is to be so radically transformed that nothing
will stand in the way of our single-minded devotion to being Jesus in this world, no matter the
cost. It is as counter-cultural as it gets. Just as John situated himself out in the wilderness, we too,
cannot get so cozy with money and power and privilege that we are blinded to our complicity in
the perpetuation of systems that oppress, that tip the balance even further in favor of the already-
So we come here, week after week, and we reconnect with the community that strengthens
us and we hear God’s word proclaimed and we are fed at this table and then we are sent out to
love and to serve, to point the way to Jesus, the beloved, and to tell the Good News that we are all
beloved of God, and that nothing in all creation can take that away from us.
In my three years and some here in this place, standing in this pulpit, you have heard a
pretty consistent message from me. I imagine you may have gotten a little tired of it from time to
time. But it is, I believe, the words God has given me to say, maybe as much to myself as to all of
you: you are loved, and there is plenty to go around. So go out and sow that love as prodigally as
the source from which it comes. This world needs us to be, as Michael Curry has said, Crazy
It is as radical and unexpected a story as there could be. People can and will make fun of
you for believing such fairy tales. But if the God of the universe can create all that is, can become
human, and can raise the dead, surely that God can change us, making us instruments of peace
and justice and reconciliation in this world.
I recently came across a poem by a minister in the United Church of Christ that, were I a
better poet, I might have written myself.
If you came to this place expecting a tame story,
you came to the wrong place.
If you came for a story that does not
you came for a different story than the one
If you came to hear of the coming of a God
who only showed up so that you could have a
with your loved ones,
then you came for a God whom we do not
For even a regular baby is not a tame thing.
And goodness that cannot threaten complacency
is not much good at all,
And a God who would choose to give up power
to become an infant for you,
certainly didn't do it just so you could have dinner.
If you came because you think unwed teenage mothers
are some of the strongest people in the world.
If you came because you think that the kind of people who work third
shift doing stuff you'd rather not do might attract an angel's
attention before you, snoring comfortably in your bed, would.
If you came because you think there are wise men and women to be
found among undocumented travelers from far lands and
that they might be able to show you God.
If you came to hear a story of tyrants trembling
while heaven comes to peasants.
If you came because you believe that God loves the animals
as much as the people
and so made them the first witnesses to the saving of the world.
If you came for a story of reversals
that might end up reversing you.
If you came for a tale of adventure and bravery,
where strong and gentle people win,
and the powerful and violent go down to dust,
where the rich lose their money but find their lives
and the poor are raised up like kings.
If you came to be reminded that God loves you too much
to leave you unchanged.
If you came to follow the light
even if it blinds you.
If you came for salvation and not safety,
then, ah, my friends,
you are precisely in the right place.
So what are you here for? (1)
Beloved of God, in baptism, a claim has been made on your life. You passed through the
waters of baptism and made promises or had promises made on your behalf to live no longer for
yourself but for the one who was born and died and rose again for you, to live the self-giving life of
a disciple of Christ, the living water. The heavens have opened and a voice has named you. You
have been given power from on high, so go into the world to love and serve in Jesus’ name.
(1) Quinn G. Caldwell, All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Abingdon Press (2014)
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