Der Vasken's Sermon on January 6, 2019

Jan 8, 2019

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, for much of the world, is the twelfth day of Christmas.  And we all know the words made famous in a traditional Christmas carol that refers to the twelve days from December 25 to January 6 with words like "...4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree."  It's been twelve days since Christmas was celebrated by Western tradition and according to the tradition of the original Church, today is the day Christmas was first celebrated. 

Today, we, also, celebrate the Baptism of Jesus Christ--another important event in His Life.  Today, we celebrate the birth of His physical life and the birth of His ministry.  This is where His story begins as an adult in this world.  And there is a relative of Jesus in this story--a cousin of His, who plays a central role in this important event.  His name is John the Baptist--humble, selfless and a man of great faith.  The Christian Church so highly regards John the Baptist that they consider him as the greatest saint second only to St. Mary, the Mother of God.

We have all heard of John the Baptist, but very few of us know much about him other than the fact that he baptized Jesus and many others.  John the Baptist is one of the most distinctive characters in the New Testament.

  • He was different than most other people.
  • He wore clothing made of camel hair and a leather belt to hold it all together--clothing considered primitive for even his day.
  • He lived in the desert wilderness by choice.
  • He ate locust and wild honey.
  • He preached a message that seemed strange to some but drew the attention of many others.
His role was to prepare and announce to the world of the arrival of the Son of God because he knew that, with Jesus' arrival into this world, a "new" relationship was about to begin between God and people.  St. John held no power or influence during his time on earth but he was popular and his message was spoken with great authority.  His time in this world was short-lived.  He died when he was barely thirty years old but his actions live on even today and will for generations to come.

The Armenian Church venerates this man because of the value of his message.  See, he did more than baptize people.

  • He called on people to live morally upright lives.
  • He called on people to correct the wrongs of the world around them.
  • And he called on them to bring God's voice into all areas of life.
John the Baptist did far more than baptize people.  He lifted them up and built them up to go out and better their local society, and he offered people a change in life to bring their faith into the world where it is so badly needed.  And he calls on the Church, and everyone in the Church, to do what he did--to look at and raise up the moral issues of our time.

The Church has always tried to be forthright about the world around us--like the sanctity of all human life.  But there are many other areas as well such as health care policies and education policies and immigration policies and security concerns and trade agreements and budget priorities and so many other important issues that deeply affect people and families.

St. John encourages us--the Church--to speak out not only on issues of private morality but on issues of public morality as well.  If the Church and its members are to live out their faith, then we need to concern ourselves with not only what is talked about in our living rooms and dining rooms, but also in our classrooms and boardrooms and our town halls and our selectmen's rooms.  John the Baptist recognized that many people, who call themselves people of faith, hesitate to stand up for morality in the world around them.  He says that it is faith that brings the conversation of right and wrong to the table.  It is faith that draws the line in the sand around the issues of morality and justice and fairness in the public square.  Because without the presence of faith and the church, the world and life itself becomes nasty and harsh.  If John the Baptist's message was acted upon today, think about how different our world would be.

John the Baptist is more than a "top-tier" saint.  He is the model of what the church's mission should be.  Today, we remember him and in remembering this great saint, may we all wake up each morning with an attitude that says:

  • "I'm aware that I can make my corner of the world better today.
  • I'm going to bring my faith into my home and my school and my town hall.
  • And I'm going to experience my faith in a whole new way."
John the Baptist went through life building up the world around him and he encourages us to do no less.  And may we all follow his example and be a 21st Century "John the Baptist."

Something for all of us to think about.

Amen.