A sermon preached by Nikolaj Christensen on 9 January 2022. You can also watch the sermon on YouTube.
‘The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts’. This is how the people Jesus came to are described in the Gospel today. These are the people who for centuries have been prepared by God in order to receive the Messiah, the Anointed priestly king promised by the prophets. They had a direct expectation towards God, and this expectation is expressed in their inner dialogue: Is this one the Messiah? Is it now that God is going to bring his Kingdom?
You could say they were a meditating people: they had listened to the ‘voice of the Lord’, in the words of the Scriptures, for many generations, and remembering, even memorising, the word of the Lord was (and is) a core aspect of their culture.
It wasn’t because they expected great things of themselves – it wasn’t because they had made three ambitious New Year’s resolutions, and this was the year they were finally going to keep them – that the people had reason to speculate in their hearts about the Messiah, but because they expected God to act sovereignly and graciously, as the Israelites had experienced it again and again. Some of them may have believed that an outward demonstration of righteousness would be what finally made them ready to receive the Messiah, but in fact, the expectation itself was enough – the fact that it had taken root in their hearts and minds.
So, they came to John the Baptist because they were paying attention to their hearts and they knew two things: that there were aspects of their innermost secrets that needed cleansing, and that they needed to be filled with the Spirit of God. And then they were a little trigger-happy to declare John to be the Messiah because he was offering the first thing. But the one on whom the Holy Spirit was about to come to rest was already among them.
Notice how the Spirit came upon Jesus. It didn’t come through some feat of spiritual strength on his part, but instead it says he was ‘baptized and was praying’. He already had the power of God – he already had direct access to God the Father – and yet he made himself equal with humanity, subjecting himself to the same need to humble himself and be baptised and to pray. He prayed, expecting God to act, humbly leaving the initiative to God – and so he was prepared to receive the Spirit along with that voice of mercy: ‘You are my Son, … with you I am well pleased.’
All that’s needed is an openness for God to act, and that’s true for us as well.
This openness – this expectation – is itself created by God and enables us to allow him to burn away all the things that separate us from him, the one who loves us without any demand that we prove our worth. In him there is freedom, because he gives you access to the word of grace, the word of unconditional love. And this word of God, when we hear it, when we receive it, is what becomes ‘a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ in me, and you.