Back to Index

Listen to sermon by clicking here:

The New World Breaks In
December 4, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 3:1-10

John the Baptist was an imposing intruder. The Bible says he was dressed in clothes made of camel hair— probably just a tunic over his shoulders, and a leather belt around his waist. He came out of the wilderness where his food was locusts and wild honey. He came upon the scene disturbing, disrupting and turning that world upside down. He had a message which alienated him from the religious leaders of the community. When they came out to hear him, he said, “You snakes!” Calling people snakes doesn't make one too popular! John the Baptist was an imposing intruder upon that scene, a voice crying in the wilderness. They took this passage from the book of Isaiah that we've just sung and applied it to John the Baptist—“like a voice crying, shouting in the wilderness.” And his message was, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” which the choir sings as an introit. “Prepare ye.” 

Sometimes it takes an imposing intruder like John to break through the veneer, the crust, that society builds around itself, the cocoon that we spin around ourselves to protect us, so that we can be calm, comfortable and complacent. All through history we've seen people who came like John the Baptist. Martin Luther would turn Germany upside down. He changed the course of history of the Christian religion and politics. Martin Luther—one man—disrupted, disturbed. He said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” 

We've had people in our own generation. Martin Luther King, Jr. was such a person. American society was changed. It will never be the same again because one man came as an intruder and broke through the cracks in the veneer that society spun around itself. 

Sometimes it takes an intruder like them to break through our own personal lives. Sometimes it's another person who comes into your life, and the relationship you build with that person turns you around. You reevaluate your priorities, your thoughts, your images, your values. Sometimes it’s a group of people or a community of people. Sometimes God comes intruding into our lives on a crisis. Sometimes when we get too calm, too cool, too comfortable, a crisis intrudes—emotional depression, or anxiety, or financial crisis or job crisis, or illness, or the death of a loved one. These come barging into, intruding into our existence. Sometimes it takes something like a John the Baptist to break through, so that we can hear the message of the New World. 

The message that John the Baptist preached was the same message that Jesus preached. They both proclaimed, “The kingdom of God is at hand, therefore, repent.” The kingdom of God is near. It's here, therefore, repent. The Bible, especially the New Testament’s view, is that there are two worlds. There's the physical world, the material world, and there is the spiritual world. The New Testament is very clear. Surrounding our present existence is a spiritual realm which every now and then breaks into our existence. 

Because of science for the last few generations, we have almost ceased to believe that there is a spiritual world. We’ve become materialistically oriented. We've been taught that the only real world is that which we experience through our senses—touch, taste, smell, hear, see.  It is almost difficult to find religion in the church anymore because we have become so materialistically oriented. But now in our generation, this is changing. In our generation, we're beginning to see that there is a spiritual realm, a spiritual world, the kingdom of God, or whatever term you want to use, around us, and in which we move. It’s like a tree. Its roots are in the earth, but its branches are in the air, and the tree needs both to survive. You and I move in two different realms, and sometimes when we get too oriented in the material realm, the new world, the spiritual world, has to break through. 

This truth is really dramatized with the Christmas event. Into our world came a baby and through that baby, the spiritual world, the new world came fully developed and matured for all of us to see what it's like in the person of Jesus Christ. Breaking into our existence came this baby announced and proclaimed by angels singing, heavenly choir of angels. For many years, I discredited that and said, “That's poetry. Or that's a nice way of saying it was a beautiful evening.” But now, I'm not sure anymore because there is a spiritual world all around us in which the dead reside. The great cloud of witnesses is all around us. There is a spiritual world characterized by the presence of God, characterized by dazzling light. Saints throughout all the centuries have discovered a presence or relationship with God that is just beyond words, characterized by the presence of God, deep joy, singing and glory, peace, serenity, quiet, and strength. People who have experienced the new world in their lives know serenity, calmness and joy. How modern people in this hectic pressurized age need to discover the peace and joy of the kingdom of God! John's message was that this kingdom of God is at hand; it’s all around us. 

Both John and Jesus said that our response to this new world and our way of relating to this new world, our way of entering into the spiritual world, is through repentance. They both said, “Repent.” Repent is translated in the Good News version, which we heard read to us, as “turn”. Our response to the coming of God into our lives is to turn from our sin. John and Jesus were very clear—turn from your sin. Turn from all that keeps you from entering and participating in the new world. Turn from all that is hindering and blocking you. Turn from the separation that you have from God. All that would separate us from God is called sin. That which separates and blocks us from the spiritual life is called sin. Turn from everything in your life that drags you down, Turn from everything in your life that makes you less than what you could be. Turn from all that makes you second rate and mediocre. Turn from all that gives you a low opinion of yourself. Turn from your sin and let it be washed away, which is the meaning of baptism. 

John's first act for those who came to repent was to baptize them. Jesus was baptized. Baptism is the sacrament that symbolizes God breaking into existence. God reaches out and through the water claims us as His own and proclaims that our true home is in the spiritual world. Baptism symbolizes God’s reaching out and adult baptism requires repentance. We will celebrate adult baptisms this morning. Adult baptism symbolizes the human response of desiring to turn from sin and turning to God, becoming a new person, starting all over again, being born again. Repent means to turn from and repent, on the other hand, means to turn to God. Be open to the spirit, be open to the new world.

 May this Advent be a time for us to prepare the way of the Lord so God may enter our lives in a new and vivid way. One of the ways by which we respond, one of the ways by which we can open ourselves to this realm and this dimension; there are many ways but one way which people throughout all the centuries have found meaningful is silence. Silence has been lost in our practice of the faith, but many have experienced that through silence, they are open to this new world. John the Baptist prepared himself for his mission out in the wilderness all alone, in solitude. 

After Jesus was baptized, Jesus went out into the wilderness to be all alone. There he struggled with the devil. He struggled with the dark side of his life, the dark side that we all have. He struggled and came to terms in solitude, in the silence of the wilderness. On many occasions, throughout his ministry, Jesus retired, left the crowds, left the disciples, and went off by himself to be silent, to be in prayer. In this hectic pressurized age in which we live, it would be a great discovery for us to find again solitude, silence, and prayer, where we may go deep down into the depths of our being and meet God; down in the deep where there is serenity, peace and joy; down in the depths. It's almost as if there is an underground river running through our lives into which we can tap. As we go down, we can tap the resources of that river, and like a wellspring it comes bubbling up into our lives— joy, serenity and the peace of God. 

John the Baptist’s message told us there is a spiritual realm, a spiritual realm that on occasion breaks into our lives to which we respond with repentance, turning from our sin and turning to God, and being open to God primarily through prayer. May this Advent be a time of preparing the way of the Lord, that God may enter our lives in a way that we have never before experienced! May that be our prayer.

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris