Isaiah 43:1-7 (NLT)
43 But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;
I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
4 Others were given in exchange for you.
I traded their lives for yours
because you are precious to me.
You are honoured, and I love you.
5 “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.
I will gather you and your children from east and west.
6 I will say to the north and south,
‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel
from the distant corners of the earth.
7 Bring all who claim me as their God,
for I have made them for my glory.
It was I who created them.’”
Luke 3:15-17;21-22 (NLT)
15 Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
21 One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”
Sermon shared with kind permission by Rev’d Caroline Phillips
So how has your 2022 been for you so far? How are your resolutions doing? Has it lived up to expectations? So many of us see a new year as the start of a new chapter, an opportunity to put the past behind us and look to the future with hope. It’s a time of promise, and opportunity and expectation. Shakespeare said that ‘expectation is the root of all heartache’, and others say, ‘learn to expect nothing, and you’ll never be disappointed’. But actually a life without expectations is a dreary one – because expectation is so often about hope, about looking forwards, about seeking fulfilment, that is innate to us.
But have you ever been on the receiving end of others’ expectations? Actually, it’s an unavoidable part of life. Even as children, our parents and carers have expectations of how we should behave – generally that’s a good thing. But conversely, if you’re a parent, our children expect so much from us – I don’t mean just to give them everything on their birthday list, but to provide for them, encourage them, give them opportunities to grow and flourish. Our friends, colleagues, workplaces, organisations will all expect things from us – to keep our word, to be loyal, to offer support, to be reliable. We probably all know the feeling of having let someone down, when we’ve not met those expectations.
Actually there’s nothing wrong with many of the things people expect from us, the problem only comes when they’re unfair or unrealistic – then those expectations can lay very heavily indeed. As Christians, we have expectations placed on us. Obviously, as a vicar, people expect me to behave with integrity, honesty, admit failures – very fair expectations, even though they are a great responsibility! Sometimes people expect me to be negative things – judgmental and condemning of certain behaviour, for example – which I think is an unfair expectation (but understandable when sadly some have seen and experienced some Christians being judgment and condemning). But people will have expectations of all of us as Christians: they want to see that our faith somehow makes a difference in our lives. And rightly so.
Today we remember John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. And if there’s one thing we can learn from John, it’s about how to deal with expectations. Remember how this episode begins… ‘as the people were filled with expectation…’John had appeared on the scene, was a great speaker and prophet. He told people some brutal truths, he told them to sort their lives out, to leave their pasts behind – and as a symbol of this he was baptizing them. He was building up a following, and they were beginning to wonder if he was the special one, God’s son. They were placing his hopes on him, expecting him to fill God’s promises.
But how does John meet these hopes and expectations? He points the people to Jesus. He says ‘I’m not the one, but he is coming’. John got people ready, made way for Jesus, and pointed them to him. John reminds us that that is our job too – it’s our role to point people to Jesus.
People do have expectations of us as Christians. They expect us to have kindness, integrity and that we practice what we preach, but more than that, they expect to look at us, and see something of the Jesus we follow reflected back at them. So often we think people are uninterested or indifferent about faith, but actually I find that people are very interested. They are intrigued by faith, they want to why we have it, that our faith means something to us, that church makes a difference in our lives. There are many, many interested people, people open to thinking and exploring Jesus in their lives – just think of those extra people who worship with us at Christmas, those who have their children baptized, those who still value Christian funerals and weddings. There is openness…it is our job to meet people in their openness and expectation and point them to Jesus, just like John did. People have great expectations of us – which is a great responsibility but a fair one, because WE are the greatest adverts for Jesus Christ, and people should look at us and somehow draw closer to Jesus.
This is the season of Epiphany, the season of ‘revelations’, when we explore who the baby in the manger we received at Christmas really is and means. We’ve thought of the wise men, today we’re looking at Jesus God’s beloved son in whom God is well pleased as he’s baptized. And we’ll explore Jesus the miracle worker at the wedding in Cana, Jesus the one who calls us to follow him as we think of those first disciples, and Jesus the light and hope for the whole world as Simeon and Anna welcome him in the Temple at Candlemas. But I wonder if Epiphany is also about realising that WE are called, like John, to reveal Jesus to the world. WE are to be Epiphanies of Jesus to others, so that when people see us, they’ll somehow draw closer to Jesus. The Great Expectations of others may seem like a weighty responsibility, but as Christians they are also a great privilege. In all that we do this season, this year, here and in our community, in our words and our actions, let’s point people to Jesus, so they may see his light shining through us. Amen.
Let us pray that we will be faithful to our baptism
you have given us your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him,
and revealed him to us
at his baptism in the River Jordan,
grant that we, who have been born again of water and the Holy Spirit,
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit,
through Jesus Christ, our Saviour,
who is alive with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Taken from Liturgy.co.nz website