Luke 3:15-17, 18-20, 21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (NRSV)
The lectionary reading for this week is Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22. I’m adding the deleted scenes, and leaving the verse numbers in today just to be clear what the lectionary excludes in its jump from verse 17 to 21. John proclaimed the good news to the people and it was welcomed warmly. People responded and were baptized. But what set well with the people did not set well with Herod. When John called the people to repentance, they repented. When John called Herod to repentance, he got defensive. He had John arrested and put in prison. That abuse of power was apparently nothing new for Herod. He was quick to put people to death, so it was a sign of John’s power and popularity that Herod only put him in prison!
You might be confused at this point. Luke is saying, in verse 18 that John proclaimed good news to the people, and I am talking about calling them to repentance. Many people today don’t like talking about sin. They don’t want to hear about sin. They don’t want to admit that they are sinners. Many people just want to think of themselves in a positive light. I get that. It feels better to feel good about yourself. But being a sinner doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human. It is not inconsistent with doing the best that you can, even though your best effort doesn’t always work out well for you or others around you. I am convinced that people are generally doing the best that they can. They make decisions by what seems right at the time. It doesn’t mean it is right, but it seems right at the time. Does that mean it isn’t a sin? No. But many times, we exchange the best we can for good enough. We shift our long range priorities and values for short range ones.
Let me give you an obvious example. You are at a party. It is festive and the drinks are flowing freely. There is good conversation, good music, good food. One more drink seems like a good idea at the time. One thing leads to another and before you know it you have had a few too many. You do something or say something you will be embarrassed about tomorrow. You have certainly done damage to your self-respect. You have possibly done damage to your relationships and to your body. You were in the moment. And you were having fun. Is that a sin? No. And yes. Because you let the moment carry you somewhere your best self didn’t want you to go. You decided, maybe without even realizing it, to tuck your best self and your highest priorities into bed and let them sleep while you continued to party. Maybe the desire to fit in became your highest priority for the evening. Or maybe pleasure became your highest value for the night. Who knows. And neither of those are bad things… just not the best things in the long run. Pleasure is nice, but usually it is a short term value rather than a long term one. Fitting in is fun, but maybe not worth your self-respect. All this is to say, we are human. And sometimes we are our own worst enemies.
And so we have baptism. It reminds us that no matter what, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Jesus was baptized, not because he needed the forgiveness of sins, but so we would all know that when WE are baptized, we are also beloved children of God. So that we know that repentance is good news. Repentance isn’t so we will feel bad about ourselves. It is so we can remember that we are loved no matter what. Repentance turns us around when we have turned away from God/our best selves so we can experience the love of God in Christ Jesus. The call to repentance is good news because it is the call to experience, once again, the full immersion in the love of God, washing us clean.
So repent and be glad. Rejoice in the love of God that is with you now and always.
Blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.