Some of you may have had this experience over the holiday season or maybe you are the source of this experience for others. You get together with friends and family and there always seems to be one member who has endless tales to tell and you’ve all heard them endless times before but they are being told once again as if they are a new revelation and despite the lack of enthusiasm on the faces of those hearing the stories the tale continues. We are all story tellers though. It is how we actually make sense of life. It’s what drives the movie industry and the book industry. In Lord of the Rings at one point near the beginning of the saga Sam says to Frodo “I wonder what sort of a tale we have fallen into?” It is something that we all need to consider because the reality is we have all fallen into a tale. Our tale has been shaped and influenced by where we were born and where we grew up. The decisions that we have made in life are not independent of the “tale we have fallen into”. As we look out over the world there are many stories or tales that invite us in. Stories that are attempting to deal with the injustices of the world. Stories that offer us great experiences of leisure and entertainment. Stories that invite us to be part of history changing events. Stories of power and great accomplishments. What is the primary story that you see yourself in? Do you like Sam “wonder what sort of tale you have fallen into.” But how can we answer such a question from the inside of the story. That was Sam’s dilemma. He knew they were being caught up in something but from the inside it was not clear what that was. To help us discern the tale we have fallen into we could reflect on some questions. What is on your mind when you go to bed every night or wake up in the morning? What are the burning questions, the big problems, the inner insecurities that fill your heart? Where does your mind rush during moments of quiet? What do you actually do everyday? How do your actions correspond with what you say or believe?
John the Baptist was calling people to such reflections. He was saying to people you have fallen into the wrong tale. The wrong story. Repent! Turn around, leave that story and enter a different story. It is easy for us and it was easy for them to engage in religious practices that simply add a spiritual dimension to life. But that does not change the story or the tale that we are in. That does not change the primary story that gives shape and significance to your life. John the Baptist was calling people out into the wilderness to be baptized. He was changing the story line of the meaning of baptism and inviting people to change the primary story that was shaping their lives and giving their life significance. Prior to John baptism was a ritual cleansing that you did to yourself as a sign that you were attempting to have a life pleasing and acceptable to God. You were part of a system and a structure that said perform these duties and follow these steps and you will be accepted. John was calling people out of that story into a story that says I cannot cleanse myself, I cannot make myself acceptable, someone else needs to cleanse me, someone else needs to welcome me. I cannot get to God through my actions God must come to me.
We cannot answer the question – what am I to do? unless we can answer the question – what story am I part of? Unless we know what tale we have fallen into. If the primary story of our life is driven by what is viewed as successful in the social setting we are living in then the big decisions and the little choices that we make in life will be made to drive that forward. If the primary story of our life is one nationalism driven by a specific political view that is what will drive our life forward. If the primary story of our life is leisure and entertainment that will drive our decisions. If the primary story of our life is family or clan that will drive our decision making. The story that we have fallen into whether we are aware of it or not will influence the choices that we make everyday. None of these story lines, although all important and valuable in their own right, are not the true story of life and will not fulfill us if they are our primary story.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordon, to be baptized by him.” Jesus enters the human story. Matthew had laid this out clearly from the beginning of his gospel. Jesus enters human history connected to a long line of people going back through the centuries displaying their struggles as to what story was the driving force of their lives. Stories of God interacting with people throughout history. Now in Jesus God enters the human story in a real and concrete reality. “This is my son the beloved with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus the Son of God enters human history. He lives a perfect life. He dies at human hands proclaiming forgiveness. He rises from the dead launching a new and eternal kingdom. But this is not a detached story. This story fits in and makes sense in the larger story. It is integral to the larger story. The story that all those who had gone before are bearing witness to. The story that God created the world and humanity. That humanity turned from God exalting ourselves over God and that God’s plan of redemption to love us back, to call us back, to welcome us back reaches its climax in Jesus the crucified and risen one who has entered the reality of the story. This historical and very public story is not shrunk into the smaller stories. The political wins and losses, the technological advances, the so called American Dream. This story, the story of Jesus cannot be shrunk into our little stories. Do you see it? The Jesus story is the primary story of human history? Is the Jesus story the story you are willing to be wrong about? Is the Jesus story the story feeding your life? Is there any other story in human history that you are willing to be wrong about? That you are willing to hang your life on. This very public and historical story of Jesus re orients us to a new way of thinking and living. That’s what happens to John the Baptist in the portion we read this morning. “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordon, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him saying I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John is looking at Jesus and saying I need to be cleansed by you. You are the Holy one. There is nothing that you can receive from me. But Jesus has entered the fullness of the human story. The tale that Jesus has willingly fallen into is the human story. There is no place in that human story that Jesus avoids. He is willing to come down into our deepest needs and be with us. He is saying to John and to us I have fully entered this story. I stand with you in all your need. I stand with you in your need to be cleansed. I bring righteousness and wholeness to everything, do not exclude me from anything in your life. The little story, the story of your need for cleanliness, do not exclude me from that story, do not exclude me from any story that gives your life meaning and substance, let those stories be touched and transformed by my story. In Christ it is no longer the political cause we fight for that gives meaning, it is no longer the increase of success in life however we define that that gives life meaning, or the increase in health or entertainment or anything that gives life meaning. But it is the primary story of life of which Jesus is the centre, the pinnacle, the beginning, the end, that gives life purpose and substance and meaning. When we loose sight of this very historical and public story of Jesus we forget that it is not those that disagree with our political views of justice and injustice or human needs that we battle against. It is not the increase of success and material wealth that satisfies. It is not in maximizing free time in which to gorge ourselves on endless entertainment or consumerism that will fulfill our restless hearts. The historical and public story of Jesus told in scripture reorients us to an entirely new way of thinking and living. It reoriented Johns thinking. It put him into a whole new story that made him wonder, what is this tale that I have fallen into.
Christianity is not a way of adding spiritual spice to our recipe for bread. To our recipe for that which we find satisfying. Jesus taught John the Baptist, Jesus taught his disciples, Jesus teaches us that Jesus is the only bread that sustains and satisfies. The only food that you cannot live without. This public story centres on the scandalous and shocking news, “a voice from heaven said, this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”. Everything has changed because of a crucified Messiah in the first century. The implications from that event reverberate throughout the cosmos and into every nook and cranny of our lives. It is a story that engulfs our lives. It is the story that gives us life.