Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

By Pastor Daniel W. Brettell

Have you ever experienced anticipation that very nearly filled your every waking moment? Those of you who have young children or young grandchildren know exactly what I’m talking about if you think back just a few weeks. The term “eager anticipation” doesn’t come close to describing how a young child awaits the coming of December 25th. And I’m sure that if you think about your own childhood, you’ll remember your own feelings of “eager anticipation.” Maybe it was for Christmas, maybe it was for your birthday—not something I eagerly anticipate any longer—but that’s the kind of feeling I’m talking about when I say “eager anticipation.” It’s the kind of anticipation that keeps you up all night with wonderful, joyful thoughts

Similarly, “eager anticipation” doesn’t come close to describing the feelings the Jews had as they awaited the coming of the Messiah. We read about this anticipation in Luke’s 3rd Chapter, but I don’t think we always fully understand it.

Way back on the 2nd Sunday of Advent we heard Luke quoting the prophet Isaiah when Luke described John the Baptist as “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!”

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke describe the people who were listening to John the Baptist. Luke describes them as a people “in expectation.”

But when we read or hear the words “prepare” and “filled with expectation,” I don’t think those terms really express what Luke’s trying to tell us.  You see, Luke paints this incredibly vivid picture, but he paints it in Greek, and the Greek phrasing actually goes beyond what can be easily translated into English. Sometimes, the English words just don’t carry the emotion of what was being said in the original Greek. For example, when Luke quotes Isaiah as saying “prepare the way of the Lord” he used the Greek word e`toima,sate (eh toi mas uh tay) which is more than just “prepare.” It’s an imperative meaning “you—all of you—put everything in readiness and keep it all in readiness.”

“Prepare” is an easy way of saying this, but it doesn’t have the complete emotional impact of what is intended. You begin to gain an emotional understanding if you consider when the original text of Isaiah was written—between 700 and 800 years before the birth of Jesus—you begin to get a sense of what this preparation meant for the Jews. They had been told to prepare . . . to get ready for the coming of the Messiah and then they had to stay prepared for over 800 years.
And that brings us to that second phrase I’d like you to consider. In today’s lesson Luke describes the people as being “filled with expectation.” But here again, the English translation doesn’t do the phrase justice—especially when you consider that they had been told to e`toima,sate (eh toi mas uh tay)—to get ready and to stay ready. For 800 years, the people had supposedly been getting ready and staying ready. My brothers and sisters, these people weren’t just “just filled with expectation.” Luke uses the word Prosdokw/ntoj (pros doh kon tos), which means they were waiting for, looking for, expecting, eagerly anticipating—the coming of the Messiah. And they had been doing it for over 800 years!

If you think a young child is bouncing off walls in eager anticipation at the beginning of December—with only three or four weeks to go—imagine what the Jews must have been experiencing after 800 years of getting ready, of staying ready, and of eager anticipation!

This level of anticipation is important for us to understand—both in terms of how the people in today’s Gospel expressed THEIR eager anticipation for the coming of the Messiah and also in terms of how we express OUR eager anticipation for the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Maybe what we need to ask ourselves is, “How eager are we in our anticipation?”

I want to confess something here. One of my guilty pleasures is watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. Now, at times I’m absolutely appalled at some of the things people do; things that they believe to be funny, but for the most part there are usually a few videos each week that will make me laugh out loud. Unfortunately, those videos usually aren’t the ones that win. However, there was one video about a year ago, that left me a bit bewildered. I literally couldn’t figure out how to react. Initially I wanted to laugh, then I was appalled, then I grew a bit thoughtful about it. The video was of a baptismal service being held in a Pentecostal church. Now, what you have to remember is in the Pentecostal tradition, baptism is not infant baptism, it’s called believer baptism, and usually occurs in the early teen years. So, in the video the pastor was waist deep in the baptismal pool at the front of the church. Not something I would want to do on a day as cold as today.

This pastor had just baptized a young lady and had helped her climb up out of the pool. He then turned to the other side to help the next baptismal candidate—someone who was off camera— the pastor turned to help this person come down into the pool. And as the Pastor moved to that side of the pool, the candidate—a young, teen-age boy—shouted “Yee hah” and did a cannon ball into the pool.

The now-drenched Pastor was heard to mutter, “Well, that will never happen again.” Now, as I said, first I laughed, then I was appalled, and then I started to think about what I had just seen. Now, I’m sure that all this young man had in mind was to act up for the video cameras he obviously knew were rolling. I’m also certain that out in that congregation there were many parents who were very—VERY—happy that he was not their child and there was also one Mom and Dad who were very unhappy that he was. But his actions got me to thinking about how we respond to God coming into our lives. Are we calm and sedate . . . or do we yell with eager anticipation and happiness?

You see, that’s what this Gospel lesson is partly about. It’s about the people being excited about the expected coming of God into their world. It’s about them being so excited that they mistake the prophet for the prophesied. But it’s also a message to us that we should be “filled with expectation, with eager anticipation.” We should be feeling like six-year-old children on Christmas Eve.

However, there’s a difference between those people standing on the banks of the Jordan and us standing here in the 21st century. The difference is that we already know who the Messiah is. We know that the Messiah is Jesus Christ. And we also know something else—and we know it because it too is part of the message found in today’s Gospel. We know that in our baptism we have been claimed by Jesus Christ and redeemed of all our sins. And that knowledge my Christian friends should have us not just experiencing “eager anticipation,” but also ecstatic joyfulness.

Listen to this Good News, my friends. But listen to it not just with your ears. Listen to it with your heart and your soul and with your whole being. Listen to this Good News that is so powerful in today’s lessons. It begins in Isaiah. You hear the Gospel message in Isaiah—in the Old Testament! Listen to it! Isaiah says:

“But now thus says Yahweh who created you, Jacob,
and he who formed you, Israel:
‘Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name.
You are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned,
and flame will not scorch you.
For I am Yahweh your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
your Savior'” (Isaiah 43:1-3).

God claims us as God’s own!

But there’s something else that I want you to take note of in today’s Gospel. There on the banks of the Jordan, the people were confused. They wondered whether John was the Messiah that they had prepared for, that they had waited for, and so eagerly anticipated. And John told them “no,” that he baptized them with water but that there was another coming who was more powerful; one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And then it says that when all the people had been baptized and when Jesus had been baptized and was praying,

“The sky was opened,
and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form as a dove on him;
and a voice came out of the sky,
saying ‘You are my beloved Son.
In you I am well pleased'” (3:21-22).

All those people, all that preparation, all that eager anticipation; how did they miss the moment?!

They missed the moment because it wasn’t what they expected. God surprised them. God came in the most unexpected of ways, my friends. God—Jesus—didn’t come in glory; he didn’t come as a warrior prince on a white charger.

• God came as a poor baby in a manger.

• God came as a child—the son of Mary—spending his childhood in Joseph’s carpenter shop.

• God came as just another man stepping into the muddy Jordan to be baptized by a street corner, fire-and-brimstone preacher.

• God came as a wandering teacher followed by fishermen, tax-collectors, prostitutes—the outcast.

• God came as a rejected rabbi nailed to a cross.

• God came down from highest heaven . . . as one of us—not to condemn but to save.

• God came to us . . . we didn’t go to God . . . God came to us—and claimed us.

And God continues to come to us in surprising ways. In baptism, we are marked with the cross of Christ forever—through his grace we die with him and we are reborn with him. In the Holy Eucharist, God comes to us with grace through the bread and the wine—the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. And through God’s grace we are justified with God—not by any act of our own, but through the surprising—the incredibly surprising—acts of God—through the faith given to us by the Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit, Come!

Let us pray.

May the love of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; God incarnate, our savior and our redeemer who comes to us and surprises us every single day of our lives. Amen.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible

Copyright 2010 Daniel W. Brettell.  Used by permission.