As I grow older, I find it harder to come up with things that I want for Christmas. I don’t need much and, in fact, I’m trying to get rid of stuff. I do have some basics that I need, but I find it awkward to ask my kids for underwear.
But I have found something I do want. It’s the perfect gift. I think it is the gift we all need. I want a DO OVER. Let me explain that!
When I was growing up, we played a game called HORSE. It’s a basketball game where you take turns shooting baskets. The first person calls a shot, like “shoot from the foul line” and then shoots. If he makes it, the second player shoots. If he misses, he gets a letter – and the letters are the name of the game: H O R S E. Get all five and spell HORSE, and you are out, and the game is over.
But if you are second and you shoot and make it, no one gets a letter and the game goes on. But eventually you get near the end of game where one player has 4 letters. One more letter and it is over. And perhaps the second player shoots and misses – but maybe it’s a close miss – and sometimes the other player will say “take a DO OVER”. We’ll forget that one. Try again. Do it over.
I want a do over, but I want a do over for sin. And I am going to get one!
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea proclaiming a baptism of repentance of sin – a do over! A chance to come before God and be – not only forgiven – but treated as if your sin had never happened. It is a chance to start over, to go back and begin again. That is the gift that John is offering the people who have come to see him in the wilderness.
And they ask – what should we do? John tells them: share what you have. If you have something and others have nothing, give some of what you have to them. There is nothing wrong in having things. They are a blessing. But when others have nothing, we are called to provide for them. The rich can have anything they want as long as everyone has everything they need. Anne Frank once said, “No one ever became poor by giving away things.”
John tells others to treat everyone fairly. Don’t take more than what you are due, so others will have what they need. You are entitled to live with dignity, but your gains must come honestly and not at the expense of others.
And finally for those in power, John says do not use your authority to harm others. Do not take advantage of the position you have been given, but use it to care for those who are in your trust.
The message of John for all is to start again. Go back, and this time do it the way God would have it done. God will give you new life, to be lived in a new way, a way that is focused on those around you and not on yourself. But this gift of a new start is yours. It comes with repentance, with a turning around. Try it again. Do it over!
I think we all need do overs. I know I do. A do over for all the things I regret – that word spoken in haste, that comment that was just too critical, that moment of anger that burst out unchecked.
And I need a do over for all the missed opportunities. For the times I could have said a word of comfort, but kept quiet. For the time I could have stepped in to defend someone being oppressed, but kept away. For the time I could have reached out to help, but did not.
For all the times when I thought more of myself than of those around me.
I think we all have those times that we would like to change, moments of regret. And John comes with that gift – the gift of a do over.
And then John tells of the one who is coming whose life will be given so that we can have new life. Who will give up himself, so we get a new start.
For the Christ will die for us so that we can live anew in his name. And the Christ will bring the gift of baptism and the new life it grants to those who come to the water. For baptism is the ultimate do over – a dying to sin and a rising to new life.
The Christ is coming. That is the gift of Christmas, new life in God who comes to us that we might have a do over for the rest of our lives.
Pastor Kent Klophaus
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2012