Sunday 06 December 2009

Bible Book:

"He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (v.3)

Luke 3:1-6 Sunday 6 December 2009


Despite Luke's detailed background in verses 1-2 we are not ableto date this passage precisely, but it does reveal the messy andcomplicated political and religious situation of the time. TheRomans had been around in the region for about 100 years: theyexercised direct rule in some areas (including Jerusalem) whileothers had weak but vicious local rulers reporting to Rome. Therehad been uprisings, some of which had been brutallysuppressed.

Into this, John the Baptist appears proclaiming the word of God.Luke has told us lots about John in earlier chapters to show usthat he is going to be special, but what John does here is intendedto shock us. It probably doesn't - baptism is not consideredoutrageous in our culture even if Christians do not always agreeabout it. For Jews though, the shock was that baptism was notnormally for them but for gentiles (non-Jews) who wanted to convertto Judaism.

By baptising Jews, John is telling them that because of theirbehaviour and their situation they need to seek to become Jewsagain. They need to accept that they are separated from God'speople and they need to re-join Judaism. For John that means theyneed do what gentiles do when they want to be accepted by Judaism -that is repent, be washed clean and then show radical changes intheir behaviour.

This passage is highly challenging for Christians yet we rarelytalk of the key challenge. Instead we get caught up in the detailedprocess on who, how and when we baptise. So we miss the point,which is about what needs to be challenged in our society. Howshould it happen and what is the role of the Church andChristians?

During this season of Advent it is easy to become sentimental aboutpreparing for Christmas and easy to hide in the busyness. But whenwe read this passage in that way we can miss the impact. This isnot simply the preparation for the nativity. Advent is not a seasonfor soppy decorations, but for hard challenges. Where are today'sJohn the Baptists bringing us back to God?

To Ponder

If John the Baptist were to appear in your roadtoday what would he be saying?

How does a demand that you repent and seekforgiveness make you feel?

If suggesting baptism to Jews was outrageouslyshocking, what do you think might be expected of you today that youwould find equally shocking?

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