Rev. Glen Shoup is the Executive Pastor of Worship and Congregational Care pastor for those who have last names beginning with J – L.
John fulfilled his mission well. I say that for the following reason: John the Baptist (who was the son of Zechariah and the “child…a prophet of the Most High” referenced in verse 76 or today’s scripture reading) did a memorable job of preparing the way for his cousin Jesus. This is evidenced by the fact that 2,000 years after the fact, the most minimal study of the Gospels will swiftly and consistently show what John’s message was—Repentance. In fact if you read the first half of Luke chapter 3, which is a half-chapter synopsis of John’s entire message, if you didn’t know the message was attributed to John, you would swear it was Jesus who was doing the talking…and the heart of the message comes down to—Repentance. Stop living for yourself and your own consumption and gratification, and start living for God by living with an eye toward helping, serving, ministering to and caring for the needs of others.
And knowing this, I find verse 77 of today’s reading very revealing: You will tell his (the Lord’s) people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins (Luke 1:77). Quite literally, in two verses of today’s reading (with just a little bit of biblical literacy and contextual awareness), we see the entire good news of Bethlehem’s Christ encapsulated. This child of Zechariah’s, who was the prophetic press-release for Jesus—God-in-the-Flesh, announced a clear message of repentance as the exclusive means through which we find salvation’s forgiveness. Repentance—which quite literally means to turn away from—repentance of self-obsession and repentance of turning a blind eye towards others and repentance of self-righteousness…to tangibly turn away from all of these is how we (and all) find salvation in Jesus. Turning away from these dispositions towards narcissism and turning towards the concerns and needs of others is the pathway to forgiveness (both of self and others) because it is the path of Jesus and thus, the path of salvation.
I grew up in a tradition that talked a lot about being saved. And one of the dangers of overemphasizing “being saved” is that it can sometimes become something you believe is already done as opposed to constantly remembering that this (repenting and turning away from) is something you must be continually doing. But I’ve also spent some time in traditions that didn’t talk much at all about “being saved”. And one of the dangers of underemphasizing “being saved” is that you can sometimes come to believe that it’s already done as opposed to constantly remembering that this (repenting and turning away from) is something you must continually be doing.
Indeed, John fulfilled his mission well. He modeled, lived and preached a message of repentance (continually turning away from) as the means by which we prepare to (continually) receive Christ. In fact, the season of Advent (which is all about preparing to receive the coming Christ of Christmas) could well be called the season of John the Baptist…and this season would say to me and it would say to you—turn away from everything that intoxicates with self (repent) and turn towards the needs, opportunities and care of others. And in so doing you will find forgiveness through Christ’s salvation; in so (continually) doing, you will be saved!