Roger's Postings

Friday, December 14, 2012

Luke 3:7-18.                Hopes rising???                                               16/12/12

  (7)  John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? {8} Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. {9} The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." {10} "What should we do then?" the crowd asked. {11} John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." {12} Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" {13} "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. {14} Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay." {15} The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. {16} John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. {17} His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." {18} And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

 Our reading this morning speaks of hope – of hopes being crushed - of hopes rising - of hopes misplaced - of hopes being redirected. For all people, hope is a very important ingredient of life. We all need something to look forward to and to work towards. But again it is important, what and where we place our hopes. Surely to have a hope that is going to count in life, it needs to be based on something secure and certain. But in our world today; is there such a thing?

 Because for many today, what hope is there for us in the future. Yes we have everything: technology, money, the lot. But deep in side we know that this in itself  is all empty and meaningless. So, is it right for us to think and speak of hope?

As we look around we see that below the surface things are far from good and promising. We are in the midst of financial uncertainties. Global warming – we are told – is going to make the future far from certain.

In another area, we see corruption and violence abounding as we see a growing inequity between rich and poor - between the haves and the have-nots. We are living at a time when bureaucracies are becoming more and more ineffectual and corrupt.

On top of all of this we have a growing individualistic approach to life that is breaking down relationships at an epidemic rate: Which only adds to the growing loneliness and emptiness in life. And I could add more.

 But we can see, in many ways that things do not look all that hopeful. There are a great number in our community that are down in the mouth; and there is a growing number who are really struggling to get a handle on life and who are merely existing from day to day.

 On the other hand, there are many around about us who are putting on a brave face - pretending that there is nothing seriously wrong. They are either burying their heads in the sand, or their selfish pride won't let them be honest. There seems be this innate idea, that we have to be positive, so we can't really tell it as it is for fear of being ridiculed or some such thing. We have to pretend that we have got it all together.

Then there are others again, whose hope seems to be in ripping other people off in order to get ahead themselves. It seems that many today will do anything in order to get on. They will lie, cheat and defame, in order to have the biggest and the best, and to be ‘one up’ on those around them. They pride themselves in having more and being better than the next person. But again deep down they know that it is not right and good. This too is a false hope.
It is into this hopeless kind of situation that John the Baptist came preached his message. Preparing the way for the Lord – the only source of real hope - he began by laying down the law to them and to us. He saw in the people of his day, much same as what is happening today. There was still this glimmer of hope placed in all kinds of other things, rather than Jesus and his death on the cross. Here John seeks to get rid of those false hopes.

 In the midst of all of the problems and hopelessness people were looking to the wrong things for their hope. They were looking to be able to do a few external things, thinking then all will be well. They were placing their hope in there traditions and church connections, but still wanted to be free to live and do as they please. There was no thought of sharing with one another, if one was a little better than the other. Those in positions of authority were abusing their position and using it for personal gain. At the same time thinking that as long as they had their church connection and went through the ritual of repentance and forgiveness - as long as they were being a reasonably good person - then all would be well.
 To this, John here, calls them a brood of vipers - snakes .

But what of us today? Isn’t there also a similar attitude in our community? Would his message be any different to us? Surely here again God dashes any hope we might have simply in our church membership and the maintaining of outward appearances. Surely here he cuts away those false hopes we might have in the areas that the rest of the world looks. God's axe is at work getting rid of hope and pride that is placed on self and what can be seen - on outward appearances. Here again he seeks to cut from under us all misplaced hopes that we might have; so that there is seemingly nothing left - so that there is nothing here on a human level that we can have as a crutch - as hope for the future - nothing for us hang on to from a worldly perspective.

 But there is still one thing left to hope in. There is still the promises of Scripture. The promises of a Saviour. So back then they began to look to the man John the Baptist, thinking that perhaps here then is the one thing they could put their hope in. Today perhaps it is in our pastor or the latest ‘Ten Steps to a Positive Christian Experience’ that we might find one who is able to lead us through the troubles and difficulties that we face and get us to eternity with God.

 But no, here again this is not the answer. This too is not something that we can place our hope in. John and I are only here to prepare and point you to the one single hope that there is for mankind: Jesus Christ alone. Nothing and no-one else can attain for us and do what is necessary for us, to get us through this life and into eternity in heaven. Jesus is the only ray of hope for us all: and it is through him alone that everything gains meaning, purpose, life and hope.

 With this one hope we can now look forward – we can now look up and be truly positive about the future. Once all the rest has been cut away: Once all our false hopes are dashed: Then we can find him who truly gives hope – real, lasting and living hope. And this one that we point to, is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. There is the answer that is needed - in him and in him alone.

 John then reminds us what it is that makes him so special. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Here remember that it is he who has baptized you. And this is not the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentance - an outward sign of a person’s conviction to live as God would have them - which is by the way, really the baptism of the Pentecostals, Baptists and the like. No here in our baptism, God does the work - the baptism. Here he comes and does what is necessary for us. He connects us to his very own death and resurrection. He does the joining of us to himself - he does the cleansing.

 At your baptism and every day since God came to you in the form of the Holy Spirit. He continually reminds us that it is because of Jesus’ death and resurrection that all barriers were removed between us and God. When we were baptized, his Spirit came to us to help us to know, believe and live in light of what Jesus has done for us. His Spirit reminds us over and over again that God loves us and accepts as his very own family because of Jesus Christ. His Spirit helps us to believe - enables us to believe - to trust that yes Jesus is my Lord and Saviour - my only real hope. His Spirit goes on to assist us to live and act in light of and in accord with this one hope that we have. So now we have every reason to live in hope, because all of this is ours guaranteed.

 But this baptism is not just a baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is also a baptism of fire: and fire cleanses – it burns – it removes and gets rid of the garbage so that which is no good and useless is removed. That also is now guaranteed for us through our baptism. All that guilt and the results of evil that have happened to us, Jesus has made sure of its removal from our lives. So now we can live knowing that no matter what it is that has been a part of our lives that has hurt, broken and weighed us down; that all does not have the last say anymore. We can stand tall now - even though at the moment we may have to    live with it's consequences for while. We can be sure that through faith in Jesus Christ it will not be permanent. So again we have something sure to look forward to. We have hope rising within us - knowing that all this rot that we see around us and that affects us personally, as well as that which we inflict on others: we now know that it is not permanent - it will pass away; leaving us to live in peace and harmony forever.
So we have every reason to have hope rising up within us at this time: Hope that will not let us down or fail us. In the Lord Jesus Christ and the baptism that he performs in our lives we can face up to life in our world today, knowing that, yes it will not be a bed of roses; but that we are now joined to him who has seen to our great needs. He has cleansed us with fire and guaranteed our being a part of his family forever. That is our sure and certain hope. This Advent season we are again reminded that his next coming will be the fulfilment, in every way, of all that he has promised.

So may this hope rise up within you and give you a renewed zeal to face up to life: To hold your heads up with confidence: and to seek to live and act in accord with this certain great future. In Christ Jesus we have it all: to him be all glory and honour, now and always.   AMEN
Pastor Roger Atze
Glandore/Underdale Lutheran Parish


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