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Sunday 17 December 2023 Advent 3

John the Baptist

Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28

By Jackie Guy

Anglican Lay Reader

Context: Service of the Word involving a small congregation of elderly parishioners in a small rural village

Aim: to promote the ‘Advent Voice’ which exists in us all

We know that John the Baptist’s public ministry ended nearly four hundred years of prophetic silence. He had the distinction of being the only prophet to foretell the coming of Christ and to personally witness the fulfilment of that prophesy. Luke’s Gospel gives us an account of his birth (Luke 1:39-end) and names his parents as Elizabeth and Zechariah, relations of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
John lived in the desert, he wore clothing of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6) Many Renaissance artists portray him as a large and rugged character, hirsute and dressed in a camel coat and loin cloth. His lifestyle was austere as was his message. We also know that he died a martyr’s death, beheaded by Herod at the behest of his wife Herodias.
John’s message to the world was ‘repent for the kingdom of God is near.’ (Matt. 3:2) John was not sent by God to administer to the needs of those who came to hear him preach. His mission was simple, to be a witness to the light (John 1:6). Regardless of his appearance he would have been a very powerful preacher. He attracted the masses and baptised the repentant in the river Jordon. His followers lived the same austere lifestyle as he did, contemplating the nature of sin and its consequences.
This was the very opposite of the way in which Jesus proclaimed the good news message. Jesus assured his followers of the unconditional love of God and the need to show mercy to those who fell into sinful ways.
As we contemplate the differences between John’s calling to proclaim the advent of the Light of the world and Jesus’s calling to proclaim the gifting of the Holy Spirit, how do we proclaim the good news message ourselves?
Are we like John, concentrating on the sin of the world and calling others to repent to gain acceptance into heaven, or do we follow Jesus’ example, proclaiming the unconditional love of God, leaving the judgment of others to the mercy of God?
All Christians are called to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and that the way to salvation is through the love and belief in the one God. How we answer that call is as individual as we are. God does not see us as we see ourselves in a mirror. He reflects on what lies within. He calls us to serve him just as we are – warts and all! He does not expect us to become great public speakers or literary geniuses. But he does expect us to serve his name in the communities in which we live – each with our unique talent to serve Him as ourselves.
Do we leave the proclaiming of the good news message to others, believing that others are more worthy to spread the word of God than we are? Do we allow our limited capabilities, self-doubts, our age, or physical impairment to deter us? Do we need to be a pillar of society to do justice to our calling? That is not what God thinks, that is why he has called you and me. We are worthy to serve God. We can strive to live that message in our daily life, serving those who need our help and giving unconditional love in a way that honours God’s name.
Preaching and proclaiming God’s name is not about telling other people how to live their lives. It’s about encouraging others to have a voice of their own. Do we have the courage to announce our love for God in an increasingly secular world? Are we strong enough to face rebuke or ridicule, just as John the Baptist and Jesus did? Will our collective voice be heard during this time of Advent? It may well be that in endeavouring to do so, we step out of our comfort zone, becoming visible in a way that makes us uncomfortable. I’m sure that if God saw fit to proclaim the advent of his Son’s existence here on earth by placing that responsibility into the hands of John the Baptist, with all his peculiarities of dress and austere manner, then most of us have a good chance of getting ourselves seen and heard.
May God grant us all the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we may have the courage to try.


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