Letter to parishioners, 3 December 2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

This Sunday we will hear the great proclamation of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-10). We will hear of the long foretold voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ The herald of Jesus will step forth with a baptism of water, a message of repentance and the promise that one who is more powerful is on his way. As well as hearing the words of John, we will also hear from the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1-10). In this extract from Isaiah’s writings we will hear of the Peaceful Kingdom that is God’s ambition for humanity, the Peaceful Kingdom that still seems to be such a long way off.

In the last week much has been made of a finding from the 2021 Census. We are told that for the first time since such matters have been recorded: ‘Christianity is now a minority religion in England and Wales.’ On the surface this is a rather alarming statistic. Journalists and other commentators have tried to make much of what it might mean for ‘organised’ religion. Those who hold more extreme political views have tried to manipulate this data to suit their own intolerant attitudes. But, in the light of this week’s readings, the proclamation of John the Baptist and Isaiah’s prophecy of the ultimate Peaceful Kingdom, we should pause and reflect, not only on the numbers but on what such a finding might mean to us as faithful disciples of Christ.

Throughout the last two thousand years the Christian Church has gone through many cycles of flourishing and persecution. Those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ have been divided up through schisms and doctrinal differences. As in the time of Jesus himself, political and military authorities have seen faith in a loving and serving God as a threat to their desire for absolute power. Even today, we see many people living under regimes where Christianity is a forbidden religion. Even today, we see the Church divided within itself as it tries to find a path through the issues of financial shortfall and how governance might serve the majority and not just those with the strongest voices.

On Sunday we will hear of a lone voice crying in the wilderness, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. We will hear the beginning of the final stage of God’s plan for humanity. We will hear the stark message for those whom John called a brood of vipers, the religious and civic authorities that dishonoured God’s law by the way in which they used it to serve themselves rather than others. In contrast to this, the prophet Isaiah shows us what we should be working towards, a world in which wolf, leopard, lion and bear shall live in peaceful union with the lamb, the kid and the fatling. In other words, a world in which the strong no longer devote their energies to conquering and dominating, but rather loving, serving and healing, just as we were shown in the life and ministry of Jesus, the life and ministry which we will recall and honour as we celebrate his Nativity in just three weeks’ time.

It is easy for us, in our flawed humanity, to seek to be dominant, the most popular, those who are at the top of the league tables. But that sense of ambition and pride does not match what we learn from God coming into the human condition in the form of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that we should place ourselves at the back of the queue, helping others to come into a relationship of faith with him through our words and actions. As we continue our Advent pilgrimage, let us pray that we might honour and obey the teachings of Christ, and set aside all that aligns us with the brood of vipers spoken of by John.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen