Introduction and Call to Worship
The theme of anticipation continues this Advent season as we believe that Christ will return again, that he will come in glory to judge the living and the dead. Our worship inspires us to draw near to Jesus, to receive his presence in the Eucharist and share his love through our fellowship and Winter Wonderland later today!
First Reading Isaiah 11:1-10
The Jews had suffered greatly at the hands of foreign powers and ungodly leadership, but now God declares that better things will come out of these most unpromising of circumstances.
Second Reading Romans 15:4-13
Paul has been encouraging the Roman Christians to think not only about themselves but the needs of other believers. He goes on to encourage this further by reminding them of the example of Christ who served others.
Gospel Matthew 3:1-12
Jesus’ ministry is about to start, and John the Baptist is determined to make sure that people are ready for it!
HOMILY “Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan.” (Matthew 3:5)
I am always fascinated by historical characters, their personality and the impact they have had on the lives of others. Among them is Stanley Owen Green, known as the “Protein Man”. He was a human billboard in central London from 1968 until his death in 1993. He walked Oxford Street carrying a placard with a warning, not about faith or belief, or even the end of the world of climate change, but a warning against eating protein! Stanley believed that if people ate less protein, they would end up nicer and kinder. One writer online called Stanley "the most famous non-famous person in London" – what an epitaph! Let’s be honest, his drive was a little strange and his life choice somewhat eccentric but he was motivated and driven by his cause. And he made an impact upon some! By contrast, John the Baptist with his weird diet of locusts and honey, his unkempt look and confrontational message drew crowds out of the towns and into the wilderness to hear him preach and be baptised.
I suppose that a bit like poor placard Stanley, John brought a message of warning. But this was more than just a call to change, for John was calling for whole life renewal: judgement is imminent, something has changed, God has acted and we must all take note. Perhaps people flocked to hear John because he inspired excitement and was rather hard to ignore, even back then before social media and all the ways we have today of communicating our message. Perhaps we should ponder why it was that John’s message was so important that people walked miles to hear him?
As always, context is important here, for John was offering an answer to a very long-awaited occasion, the arrival of God’s long foretold mediator, king and leader. John was teaching that what they had longed for for many years, the coming of the Messiah, was now about to take place in their very midst – Jesus, the one who saves, was on the scene and about to change everything. So special is this coming Messiah that John is not worthy to untie the strap of the Lord’s sandal – repent ye sinners!
However, it was not only John’s words that suggested he was a prophet with an important message. His camel-hair clothing would have reminded the crowds of Elijah, the very prophet that the Jews expected to return one day to herald the coming of the Messiah (see 2 Kings 1:8/Malachi 4:5). Matthew supports this understanding of John by stating that he was the one spoken of many years ago by the prophet Isaiah, the one who would make the way ready for the Lord (v. 3). John’s way of getting people ready, however, was tough. He taught that they needed to repent, a word which in the original language means much more than feeling sorry or even saying sorry but involves a turning away from wrongdoing and a radical change of behaviour.
Even more so than Stanley and his board, John had particularly harsh words – and these were aimed at the religious leaders of his day, who believed that they did not need to repent because their strong faith-roots would be enough to save them. He warned them not to be complacent. Being a Son of Abraham would not be enough! Their lives had to show evidence of good works, for John taught that the Messiah’s work would involve the judgement of the unfruitful and a separation of the wheat from the chaff. John’s message is pointed and relevant today, but I wonder if we would be so willing to walk miles to hear what he had to say? Or would we just write him off as quirky, eccentric, a bit odd…just like people nearly 2000 years ago may have considered the Baptist? At our peril do we ignore his uncomfortable words now we know Jesus’ message of grace, forgiveness and salvation through faith!
Well, like the people of John’s day, we here at St Mary’s Thorpe in 2019 are also awaiting the Messiah but this time we anticipate his return to judge the living and the dead. Jesus taught of the urgent need to be ready for his Parousia. He also spoke of judgement as well as salvation: this day is a time of hope but he warns us to be ready – prepared! Remember how John and Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders of their day despite them being people of prayer who believed strongly in God, because they put their way of doing things, their traditions, above their need to transform lives. There is a warning here for us today. We at St Mary’s must always be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth, who challenges us to be prepared for what Jesus is longing to do among us. This season of Advent reminds us that this world order is a transient thing, for our Lord will return and make all things new. The people of John’s day were very serious about getting ready for the Messiah. They did not ignore John or dismiss him as an over-the-top eccentric like many did poor Stanley with his strange message about protein. This Advent, how do we respond to John the Baptist? Is he a bit odd and eccentric? Perhaps, but he is also God’s prophet with an important message that is still relevant to us today. Amen.
1. It’s easy to dismiss John the Baptist as a bit of an eccentric.
2. The people of his day, though, flocked to hear him, believing he had a vital message about the coming Messiah.
3. They were keen to be ready for this event.
4. John warned them that to be ready involved repentance, a repentance which should transform their lives.
5. Are we as serious about being ready for the Messiah’s return? Are we ready to change?