• Steven Marsh

God’s Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers–Baptism, Re

This is The Third Sunday of Advent. The Joy Candle is lit. The Hope and Peace Candles remain lit. Advent anticipates the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Messiah. Jesus, the Messiah, Savior and Lord ushers in a new kingdom and brings order to the world. Advent is about the incarnation. The incarnation is the historic event when God the Father made himself known as God the Son. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was both true God and true man. God descended to us, because we are incapable to ascend to God. In Jesus Christ, God descended to save…to give us hope, peace and joy, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Such is the promise of Advent.

God, who empathizes with each one of us, reaches out continuously with grace. Grace, God’s unmerited favor for you, me and all people creates hope, peace and joy. Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another…”[1] It is through empathy that we demonstrate compassion. And our compassion for others displays hope, peace and joy. Father Gregory Boyle, the author of Tattoos on the Heart, writes, “I suppose that the number of homies I’ve baptized over the decades in in the thousands. Gang members find themselves locked up and get around to doing things their parents didn’t arrange for them. Homies are always walking up to me at Homeboy Industries or on the streets or in a jail, saying, ‘Remember? You baptized me!’”[2] God’s empathy reaches us prior to regeneration, conversion and baptism.

The texts in Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10 and Matthew11:2-11 anticipate the fulfillment of one’s regeneration, conversion and baptism. Isaiah 35:1-10 depicts that creation and God’s people receive healing and restoration. Matthew11:2-11 asserts specific examples of healing and restoration. And, those examples have literal and spiritual implications. Matthew also records that John the Baptist may have been discouraged about his life and ministry. He may have had too high of expectations of himself and Jesus. What we do know is that Jesus highlights John’s strength and courage in the face of persecution and injustice. Jesus draws parallels between John’s mission and his.[3] Jesus points the way for the mission of his followers as well.

Empathy is rooted in joy. What is joy? Joy is a sustainable contentment. New life is possible for everyone. Because God loves the world, God sent his Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. God has promised you salvation eternally and now. Christians live and wait in hope, peace and joy for God’s promised healing and restoration. John Buchanan, Pastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago writes this about joy, “The contrasts of Advent reflect the paradoxical polarities of Christian faith: strength in weakness, power in self-emptying, winning in losing, receiving in giving, living in dying, the almightiness in a manger, resurrection in crucifixion.” [4] Joy is experienced in the self-emptying of oneself for the sake of another. That was the way of John the Baptist and Jesus. It is our way too.

Celebrate your regeneration, the work of God changing your heart and mind to want God in your life. Celebrate your conversion, which is an ongoing process of becoming more like Jesus. Celebrate your baptism. Be empathetic with others. Therein lies joy.

[1]This definition of empathy is taken from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

[2]Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart (New York, New York: Free Press, 2010), 83.

[3]In this textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Leanne Van Dyke, David A. Jones, Jin Young Choi, John M. Buchanan, Raj Nadella and Daniel L. Smith-Christopher in Connections, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 34-36, 36-38, 42-43, 44-45, 46-48 and 48-49.

[4]John M. Buchanan in Connections, Year A, Volume 1, 45.

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