O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist
to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord.
Psalm 72.1-5, 18-19
Give the king your judgements, O God,
and your righteousness to the son of a king.
Then shall he judge your people righteously
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains bring forth peace,
and the little hills righteousness for the people.
May he defend the poor among the people,
deliver the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.
May he live as long as the sun and moon endure,
from one generation to another.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wonderful things.
And blessed be his glorious name for ever.
May all the earth be filled with his glory.
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.
When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”
‘I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)
Today’s reading comes immediately after Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s question: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Having responded to John by revealing their mutual and complementary fulfilling of the prophecy of Isaiah, Jesus now turns to speak to those gathered around him. Having, in their hearing, asserted his role as the one for whom John was preparing the way, Jesus is keen to ensure that everyone understands the importance of John’s place in God plan for humanity.
I am sure we all know phrases like: I want to speak to the organ grinder not the monkey. Phrases that express our wish to speak to the person in charge, the one who can make the necessary decisions, rather than the underling who is powerless to make a difference. Perhaps we have used such phrases ourselves, whether in annoyance or disappointment. It was just those emotional responses of annoyance and disappointment that Jesus is heading-off today.
Before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist had made a big impact. Emerging from the desolate Judean wilderness, John had preached an uncompromising message of repentance. John had been open in professing his role as the herald of one far greater than himself. In his humility, John had even explained that his baptism in the waters of the River Jordan would be overshadowed by the baptism of the one who would reveal God’s Holy Spirit in our midst. Then, in the words of yesterday’s reading, the crowds heard Jesus saying to John: ‘Step aside! I am here! Your job is done!’
Amongst those who had received John’s baptism had been many for whom it had been a sign of hope that all was not lost. In saying, ‘Yes,’ to John’s question there was a danger that those who had felt saved might suddenly feel very let down, or even cheated. Perhaps John had just been ‘the monkey’! Perhaps they would have to start all over again with this new man! Perhaps there was no point, no hope, after all! Perhaps Jesus, like John, was just another convincing charlatan! But … perhaps not … After all, they had seen it for themselves: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.
Today we are told in unequivocal terms of the importance and the standing of John the Baptist in the eyes of God. Today we are being left in no doubt how vital John’s message is in the unfolding story of Christ’s Incarnation and journey towards crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Today Jesus is pointing the finger at each of us and making it absolutely clear … the only way to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas is to follow John’s teaching: repent! We must turn from our old ways and follow him who brings God’s salvation into this world.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to God to open our lips to speak as messengers of his gospel.
May we who are the Church of Christ on earth hear his call to repentance. As we see the signs of his healing power, make us ready to receive him into our hearts at this time and to look for his coming in glory.
Come in mercy to the people who seek for help in the kingdoms of this world and do not look to the signs of the Kingdom of Heaven. Break through the doubt and uncertainty that cloud the vision, the false values that hide the truth, that all may know that salvation has come.
Make us faithful witnesses, to bring the knowledge of Christ into our homes, our work, our meeting with others. Guide all in this community so to seek that they may truly find.
Have mercy on the sick in body or mind, the disabled, the sorrowful. Lead them from the wilderness into the fertile land of your healing love, where they may be made whole.
Lord Christ who raised the dead, receive into your Kingdom the souls of the departed. As they saw the signs of your power in this world, may they enter into the fullness of your glory.
We offer our prayers through the one long expected who has come to be among us, Christ the Lord.
Prayer for the week
Father in heaven, the day draws near
when the glory of your Son will make radiant
the night of the waiting world.
May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy
which moves the hearts of those who seek him.
May the darkness not blind us to the vision of wisdom
which fills the minds of those who find him.
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.
Rise and hear! The Lord is speaking,
as the gospel words unfold;
we, in all our agelong seeking,
find no firmer truth to hold.
Word of goodness, truth, and beauty,
heard by simple folk and wise,
word of freedom, word of duty,
word of life beyond our eyes.
Word of God’s forgiveness granted
to the wild or guilty soul,
word of love that works undaunted,
changes, heals, and makes us whole.
Speak to us, O Lord, believing,
as we hear, the sower sows;
may our hearts, your word receiving,
be the good ground where it grows.
Howard Charles Adie Gaunt (1902–1983)