Luke 3:1-6 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- (2) during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (3) He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (4) As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. (5) Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. (6) And all people will see God's salvation.'"
All the stores are proclaiming that Christmas is coming. You can hardly go anywhere without hearing or seeing something about the urgency of the coming season. "Only so many shopping days til Christmas. Get you gifts bought and wrapped, send your cards, decorate your homes...!"
When you were near John the Baptist you could always hear the urgency about the coming of Jesus the Christ. He came in the spirit of Elijah - dressed in animal skins and eating strange foods. He proclaimed the coming of the Messiah and the urgency of people getting ready to meet Him. Then Jesus stepped into the Jordan river and was baptized by John - the dove, the voice from heaven. What a holy moment! Baptism, at least for Luke, was the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry.
Several of us from the Maumee Church were in the Holy Land last January and experienced the Jordan River. We are not sure of the exact place Jesus was baptized but it was not hard to just look at the Jordan, hear the Scripture read and visualize it happening. It sent chills up my spine. We knew we were on Holy Ground.
I remember my own baptism and believe now that it was the beginning of my ministry - though I was clueless about it at the time. I was not baptized as an infant or adult - but in the third grade. I remember little of the third grade but I remember my baptism. I talked about it in school that week. My teacher remarked that it must be important for me to talk about it.
My parents are not public people. They did not want a big Sunday celebration so chose to baptize my brother and me on a Tuesday night in the chapel of our home church in Sidney. I can picture it like it was yesterday. I knelt at the altar next to my brother - 3 years old at the time, my parents behind us responding to the preacher's questions. Then the water and the Pastor's words. "I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.' There were no doves or voices but I can remember that moment s if it were yesterday.
Three years ago next month, my mother died. We had her memorial service in our same home church. The church is different with many physical improvements. But after the service I found the Chapel. The same altar and kneeling rail. I went to find my brother to show him where this all happened. It was a holy moment.
To this day I remember my baptism. I believe that moment was a pivotal moment in my call to ministry.
Though I have come to Jesus and fallen away from God many times, my Baptism has ever reminded me of who I am, to whom I belong, and how God has called me to ministry.
Christmas is my favorite time of year. I confess I will have trouble this Advent not preaching in a church, especially Christmas Eve. But I remember those who got me there. All those people, who like John the Baptist, made the way straight and leveled the obstacles in my way. Those who knew God was calling me and added their voices to my ears so I could listen and believe more easily.
I think of our neighbors when we first moved to Sidney. Five children, mom and dad. The mom, Emma, came over and invited us to go to the Methodist Church with them. I am largely United Methodist because of their invitation. They made the way easy for us to enter.
I think of and older gentleman who worked a foundry named Russ, who taught me the importance of serving others who had little in life. Every morning he was at the Alpha Community Center to serve breakfast and do Bible Study for those who had almost nothing. He leveled the playing field for me and allowed me to see how God loves the least of these.
I think of Bill and Carolyn who welcomed me into their home and taught me the Gospel. They made the view of my calling much clearer. And taught me how to preach and pray with passion.
I remember asking him about my call to ministry - if it was real or indigestion. His response was, "Scot, if you can do anything else, do it." I thought that was the dumbest thing I ever heard. But about six months later his words became clear as day. I could do nothing else, I could only serve Jesus in ministry.
I think of three women - Helen, Eva, and Phoebe who prayed for me every week in the basement of my first church. Boy did I need it and boy did they deliver! They made my ministry so much easier and the church broke many growth barriers.
I thank God for all these John the Baptist types who called me, who leveled the obstacles and who straightened my path. I am thankful for all of you who have made my rough transition smoother. It is my prayer you have the best Christmas ever.
Through it all - as we prepare for this most beautiful season, John is still calling, reminding us of the coming presence of the Christ - 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. (5) Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. (6) And all people will see God's salvation.'"