Just as we did for Advent, we will be posting a series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday’s sermon scripture during this season of Epiphany. You may use these devotions as you want – for yourself, with a group or as a family; all at once, or broken up throughout the week. We suggest you start with the Scripture readings before you engage the other pieces. Enjoy!
During Advent, we heard these words from John the Baptizer, which echo the prophet Malachi’s words, about preparing a way for a Messiah who will come with a refining fire to burn away all that is unnecessary, distracting or harmful, leaving only that which we need for true life. We also heard John address this same crowd as a brood of vipers and warn them what will happen if they do not change the ways they were living (being burned up by that refining fire).
Whew! John, like all of the prophets, is a lot. He lives in the wilderness, wears uncomfortable, unfashionable clothes, has a bizarre diet based around locusts (and honey – you probably need it to make the locusts palatable), and declares the average lifestyles of you and your neighbors to be sinful! You may have a friend like John, and if you do, you know that while you may like and admire them, you probably can only be around them for a little bit at a time.
Prophets say difficult things and act out object lessons on behalf of God that tend to alienate even beloved friends and family. They are hard-headed loners and rebels. And yet, despite John’s difficult words, appearance and challenges to established culture, people do not run away from him. They flock to him, follow him into the wilderness, and even ask him if he is the Messiah, hoping that through his baptism and teachings they might find what they are missing in their lives.
Like John’s followers, we are looking for meaning instead of the same old routines. We read blog posts and see ads that suggest we should be able to have it all, and we are not even sure what that means. But, if that is the message we get everywhere we turn, it becomes easy to believe we need to chase down that undefined “success.” A message like John’s might shake us out of our complacency, and be the quenching water we thirst for.
John, however, says that he is not the answer. He is not that refreshing, life-giving water. It is another, one whose Holy Spirit will quench all thirst for meaning and fulfillment. Jesus shows us what a life with meaning looks like right away. He is humble and receives the blessing of baptism from his cousin John, and does not seek to put himself above others. It is the Holy Spirit that elevates that moment and Jesus and all the moments that follow. It is the same for us.
In our baptism and in our service following Jesus, our lives are filled and elevated by the Holy Spirit, not by our work. It is our humility and willingness to serve that allow us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not our great deeds. We are saved and blessed so that we might go and do.
- As you think about your life, what do you think John the Baptist would ask you to change? Why? Would it be hard to give up and why or why not?
- As you think about the things Jesus asks us to do in service – for example: feeding hungry people, sharing the news that God is doing good things with people we meet, visiting people in prison, caring for the sick, giving away everything we have, forgiving people who have hurt us – which one(s) would be the hardest for you? Why is it the most challenging for you?
God of fire and Spirit, you challenge us each day. Help us give up the things that leave us empty or distract us from following You. Your path is not easy, but when we follow it we are filled with Your unquenchable Spirit of love and life. We want our lives to be filled with purpose and meaningful connections. Help us when it is difficult. Take us by the hand when we are lost. Lead us to the water.