O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ
comes again as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God. Amen.
Psalm 145.1, 8-13
I will exalt you, O God my King,
and bless your name for ever and ever.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
long-suffering and of great goodness.
The Lord is loving to everyone
and his mercy is over all his creatures.
All your works praise you, O Lord,
and your faithful servants bless you.
They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your mighty power,
To make known to all peoples your mighty acts
and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
your dominion endures throughout all ages.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!’
It is during the season of Advent that we think of John the Baptist. John was the one who was foretold in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. John was the herald, sent by God, to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. In today’s reading we hear of Jesus telling the crowds just how important John is in God’s plan for the human race.
John was not the first prophet sent by God. The Old Testament gives us many accounts of those who sought to bring God’s message to men and women down the ages. Those prophets were all rejected by those amongst whom they lived, and yet they went on preaching the word of God until the end of their earthly lives. John, of course, was not just another one of those prophets. John was someone special. John was the one who would bring a message of repentance as he heralded in the days of the Messiah.
Like other prophets John had a certainty about him that was disconcerting to the religious authorities of the day, and yet, despite that air of certainty, today’s reading comes just after John has sent some of his followers to ask Jesus the big question: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Perhaps even John had a moment when he wondered if it could really be true. But Jesus reminds John of the things they have seen and heard. Jesus acknowledges that there are moments of questioning, but he also asks those who doubt to look at the evidence that is before their eyes.
We know that John’s life will have a sad and brutal end, just as will the life of Jesus. However, we also know that John will remain true to the end, just as we are called to be true to the ends of our own earthly lives. And, just as Jesus remains true to the humanity he came to save.
Human beings have always struggled with the teaching and the preaching of prophets. We are hard-wired to demand evidence. We struggle with the concept of faith. But, John the Baptist showed us the path of true faith, and Jesus respected and honoured John for remaining true to that path, never deviating from it for one moment. Jesus understood that John had to ask his question, but Jesus was also certain that John’s very human question was not rooted in a doubt that would undermine God’s plan.
Today we are being called to hold firm to our faith in Jesus Christ. The world is throwing many challenges at us, and many questions are being asked. But … we need to hold on to the fact that God is faithful and true; that God sent his own Son to save humanity; and that God loves us with a love far beyond our wildest flights of fancy. We may want to ask questions, and God will understand that, but never let those questions and our inadequate human answers get in the way of our faith.
Prayers of Intercession
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
Saving God, you sent John to prepare the way for your Son. Give your Church grace to hear the cry in the spiritual wilderness. Transform our hearts to be open to your Spirit.
Saving God, you sent John to straighten the crooked and level the rocky path. Challenge devious minds with your justice and truth. Raise leaders of integrity and passion.
Saving God, you sent John to baptize for repentance and forgiveness. Give to all people humility to examine their lives with honesty and devotion. Turn us away from the deceit of self and others.
Saving God, you sent John empowered by your word. Speak your words of healing to all in anguish or distress. Bless us with your love and mercy.
Saving God, you sent John to announce your redeeming presence. Receive into your tender care all who have died. May we come to see your salvation.
Prayer for the week
Father in heaven,
our hearts desire the warmth of your love
and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.
Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour
and give us the strength to grow in love,
that the dawn of his coming
may find us rejoicing in his presence
and welcoming the light of his truth.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Long ago, prophets knew
Christ would come, born a Jew,
come to make all things new;
bear his people’s burden,
freely love and pardon.
Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
When he comes,
when he comes,
who will make him welcome?
God in time, God in man,
this is God’s timeless plan:
he will come, as a man,
born himself of woman,
God divinely human.
Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
We will make him welcome!
Fred Pratt Green (1903–2000)