Friday, 11 December 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this Sunday’s service our gospel reading presents us with the testimony given by John. We will hear of John the Baptist emerging from the Judean wilderness to bring his message of repentance, confession of sin and baptism. Although John’s ministry would not begin for another thirty years, just before Jesus’ own public ministry, he is inextricably linked to our journey through Advent. In its way, John’s birth was also miraculous. Mary’s elderly relative, Elizabeth, became pregnant after the angel Gabriel appeared to her husband, Zechariah, and announced that they would have a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. John was born to be a prophet, a messenger of God’s word. John went on to fulfil his divine mission. John emerged to bring to life Isaiah’s prophecy by being the one who would: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
The Judean wilderness is a vast expanse of nothing, and yet it is difficult to see very far because of the hills and valleys. John’s mission, as the forerunner of Christ, is to clear all the ‘stuff’ that obscures our line of sight when we look towards Jesus. The first step in that great mission is to encourage us all to ‘repent’, a word which literally means ‘turn around’. John is passing on God’s message that, if we are to truly benefit from his Son coming to earth, we must turn around and follow a different, uncluttered path. Then John tells us the way in which we can achieve this: by confessing our sins. The word ‘sin’ is not always easy for us to understand or to come to terms with. But, basically, we sin whenever we do or say something that distances us from God, that is, whenever we follow the path that leads away from, rather than towards, God. And then, John offers baptism, that great symbol that we have heard his message and that we are willing to hear and act upon his words.
As we journey through the next two weeks, as we prepare to join the humble shepherds in seeking out and approaching the Christ-child as he lies in the manger, let us pause and reflect on this important moment of preparation for Christmas. This year there is much talk of what is going to be ‘different’ about Christmas. There is no doubt that families and friends will have to behave in very different ways in order that we might protect each other, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Have we been given, in the midst of the turmoil of Covid 19, Brexit, economic crises, NHS overload and all the other negative stories with which we are being bombarded in the daily news, an opportunity to join the crowds who flocked to hear and receive the message of John the Baptist two thousand years ago?
John’s message of repentance, confession and baptism should be seen as a cry of great hope in these challenging times. We may not feel like being hopeful, but that is the divine message we are being offered, and what a positive message that is. Hope means that we are always striving to get closer to God through constant rejoicing, prayer and thankfulness. Is it not true that that mindset is the one we should be trying to take forward into the different future that awaits us in 2021? Let us open our eyes, our minds and our hearts and let us rush to hear the message of John the Baptist, that we might then be ready to welcome Jesus, the Son of God, who will be born in a lowly stable in Bethlehem.
With every blessing to you all,