Sermon January 9 2022

Charles Babbage is considered “the father of the computer”, of course people like Turing and Packard and Hewlett helped develop the computer even more and then companies like Commodore, IBM and Apple developed personal computers. But it is Charles Babbage who is named “the father of the computer”, because in 1833 he designed an Analytical Engine- a prototype for the very first computer. However, it wasn’t until 1906 when his invention of computing tables was demonstrated in public. It took 73 years for his design to become a reality. This is in part because what he was attempting to do had never been done before but also because I believe that even in it’s infancy computers had bugs that would cause them to do things that we didn’t understand…and the only way to” kill” those bugs was to turn the computer off and then turn it back on again and start over. There is a British comedy show called the I.T. Crowd which follows a small tech department. Any time someone calls their department the first thing they say is, “have you tried turning it off and then on again”. If Charles Babbage is the father of the computer than he is also the father of the term “reboot”. And I know most of you know what I am talking about. Sometimes our computers force updates- sometimes at the most inconvenient times- as Mike is all too aware. Sometimes we have to force shut downs because what we are seeing on the screen doesn’t match what we think should be there. We have to turn it off and then on again. We have to reboot.  When I taught meditation to students at the University of Victoria we actually used the analogy of rebooting for our minds. Turning our selves off for a moment so that we could reorganize and start fresh. Meditation can be like that, it can reboot us. As we step into the new year of 2022, I pray that it is a bit of a reboot- that we are able to find a way in which we can start fresh. Quite honestly, spending some time talking about baptism, particularly as we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus this morning, it is also kind of like a reboot.

Today our Gospel passage comes in two parts. First we have Luke 3: 15-17 followed by 21 and 22. The passage begins with John. Throughout the season of advent we encountered the verses leading up to this week’s text. We heard how Luke was setting up the context so that we could hear the word of God coming to one in the wilderness and during a tumultuous time. Now John has garnered quite a following and people are beginning to really start to ask questions and feel the buzz- they are filled with expectation-not so much because they can sense the Messiah is near but rather because they are beginning to think that John is the messiah. John quickly corrects their assumptions and points out that he can only baptize by water, and that one who is more powerful is coming and he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s declarations reveal that his own divine commission was to serve as a preparer, a town crier, a witness to the forthcoming of the Messiah. These are words that the people have been waiting for, for a long time. But John also helps them reboot their lives- their baptism by water enables them to wash off their old lives and step forward in faith ready for a new start before God.

We Presbyterians tend to skip over the part where John says that “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor” and then further where it says, “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” But these words are supposed to demonstrate the seriousness of baptism. This is not an act that one does lightly- there are commitments and vows that those undergoing baptism make or are made on their behalf but congregations make commitments too. One commentary clearly wrote, “Baptism is not a mere welcoming rite but a rite that signifies one’s separation from evil.” Yes, for us baptism is about being enveloped by God’s love and welcomed as a member of God’s family but it is also about committing to live a Christian life.  This is about pointing to our need for salvation and why we need a reboot. That is what repentance is.

This is what makes the second part, verses 21 and 22,  of this morning’s reading so fascinating. Luke is rather neutral about the story of Jesus’ baptism and it only takes two verses. This seems almost out of character for Luke, especially when he went into such great detail regarding the birth stories of John and Jesus. I mean, really, we managed to spend four weeks in a Bible study studying the songs alone, never mind the details surrounding Jesus birth. Whereas Luke was quite dramatic about the birth he is rather nonchalant when he records the story of the baptism.  Yet, if baptism is about a reboot and repentance and separation from evil, a washing away of an old life and stepping forward in faith, why does Jesus do it?

Luke, in his simplicity, states that while Jesus was also being baptized and was in the midst of prayer, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit like a dove descended. And a voice comes stating just how beloved Jesus is and whose Jesus is. The commentary went on to say, “This majestic moment in Luke gently recounts Jesus’ private divine confirmations of his identity as the Son of God.” That’s why Jesus gets baptized. So that both he, and us, can confirm his divine identity as the Son of God. Due to these two verses alone we can understand the person and the work of Jesus. The only person in the whole world who didn’t need a reboot was Jesus. Yet, I don’t think Jesus’ baptism was a reboot but it is an example. This story informs us who it is that we will be following throughout the course of the Gospel of Luke. It is a bit daunting, frankly a reboot can be a bit daunting- what if the update changes everything!

This is where the reading from Isaiah can be helpful. I will admit that this is one of my favourite passages, and it is only since coming to CVPC that I have come to understand this passage beyond it’s original exilic context. The Lord’s words to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah begin with “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Claus Westerman in his commentary says that this phrase is not meant to be a psychological exhortation for an audience to muster courage, but that it is a divine action meant to banish fear. It is meant to be a soothing passage. It is meant to create a sense of calm. It is meant to bring us the peace which the angels declared to the shepherds upon Jesus’ birth. It is meant to bring us assurance. At the start of this new year we can be assured that we will not face challenges alone, not only do we go with the presence of God, but God calls us by name. When we pass through water or fire or whatever this year has in store for us- and for the record I pray it is not more water or fire but our environmental impacts have a lot to do with that. No matter what this year has in store we can breathe deep and know that God is with us. Let me assure you that this is what I meditate upon when I need to reboot.

We are invited to revisit our baptisms today. This may be an actual recollection or an opportunity to reflect on what your baptism means to you in this moment of your life. Baptism is a rite that signifies a separation from evil. Tied in with the beginning of a new year, perhaps revisiting our baptism, means washing ourselves of the year that is  behind us and stepping forward with confidence in God, trusting God to call us by name, and be present with us, in this year ahead. We can start fresh.  Luke says that the people were filled with expectation. At the beginning of this year, we expect, yearn, hope for this year to be different from last in a lot of ways. But we also read in these Gospel lines that Jesus is that expectation realized. The prophecy is fulfilled through him. Take a moment to reboot (Pause), breathe deep, let go of the old and step forward with confidence into the new. Amen