10 December 2023

There are no surprises that John the Baptiser comes into focus in the Lectionary this week. As we meditate on his ministry, there are so many rich perspectives we could take. His work of proclaiming a message of preparing hearts is particularly challenging, though, and opens all sorts of possibilities – both for us to create the space to hear his message anew and to follow him into the ministry of proclamation and preparation in our own lives and communities.

May the message of John lead us deeper into the experience of God’s Reign and teach us to be messengers of the Coming One this week.

Isaiah 40:1-11: A word of comfort for God’s people, because a herald is announcing the coming of God to his people who are as fragile as grass. Yet God comes as a gentle Shepherd to feed and nurture his flock.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13: Thanksgiving that God has forgiven and restored God’s people, so God’s people should not return to their wicked ways, but rather should listen to what God says, for God’s salvation is near, and God’s blessings are poured out.

2 Peter 3:8-15a: Peter encourages the believers to live godly lives as they await the passing away of the heavens and the earth and the coming of the new heaven and earth. God is not slow to keep God’s promise to do these things, but, in mercy, delays so that people may be saved.

Mark 1:1-8: John the Baptiser comes, as a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the voice in the wilderness, and prepares people for the coming of a greater One after him, teaching that, although he baptises with water, the Coming One will baptise with the Holy Spirit.

This second week of Advent places the emphasis on those who announce God’s coming, and the important role they play in preparing people for the divine encounter. In Isaiah, a herald is announced who will bring comfort to God’s people by proclaiming the news of God’s coming as a caring and nurturing Shepherd. In Peter’s letter, he acts a messenger of God’s grace, encouraging the believers to live in hope and righteousness, trusting in God’s mercy and the certainty of God’s coming, even though it may seem that God is delaying. In the Psalm, God’s people are encouraged to listen to what God is saying and not go back to ways of wickedness. Finally, in Mark’s Gospel, John the Baptiser comes on the scene and is described as a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the coming of the One whom God sends to baptise God’s people in the Holy Spirit. Messengers like these have always been an important part of God’s “strategy” for working in human affairs. There are always those who are called to prepare others for God’s coming and to announce what God is doing. The challenge for our worship in this Advent season, is twofold – to create an environment in which we can listen to God’s messengers as a worshiping community and to recognise the ways in which we are called to be messengers to our world in our time.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: It goes without saying that our world is as much in need of prophetic messengers as it has ever been. In the face of the combined crises of our time, we need voices that will speak loudly and bravely of the implications of God’s presence and purposes for the world. It may well be that societal protest movements are part of this prophetic proclamation, but there can be no question that those who are called by the name of Christ are to be messengers of God’s justice, God’s generosity, God’s grace and compassion, and God’s liberating reign. The problem, though, is that all too often the Church has been quick to speak out about things we oppose and slow to act in ways that demonstrate our own commitment to God’s Reign. The challenge of the Advent call is for us to embody what we proclaim – even as John embodied in his dress, diet and actions, the spirit of the Old Testament prophets. What this means is that, as much as we might speak about Christ and the change that God’s justice requires of us all, we are to live it out in our own commitment to small acts of justice, inclusivity, grace, compassion and generosity. It means that rather than just blindly participating in the status quo, we are to be conscious and critical participants, acknowledging the inherent flaws in our systems and boldly speaking out about the injustices and woundedness it creates, while striving to live an alternative way in the midst of the current one. We do this by rejecting partisan point-scoring and the culture of “winning” at all costs. We do this by rejecting the principle of limitless growth and accumulation, and by embracing a willing practice of sharing, simplicity and giving. We do this by reaching out to those who are different from us and who disagree with us, and we do this by noticing and caring for those who are usually ignored or marginalised. Ultimately, the best way we can proclaim God’s coming to those who long for God’s Reign is to be the incarnation of God’s presence for others. May we learn how to do this more and more this Advent season.

LOCAL APPLICATION: There are so many distractions at this time of year. The festive atmosphere, the giving of gifts, the holidays and family gatherings all vie for our attention and flood us with expectations and values that we are invited to adopt. In the face of this it is tempting to adopt a negative, judgemental attitude denouncing the loss of Christ in the festivities, but in many ways this achieves the exact opposite of our calling at this time. Rather than becoming messengers of God’s grace and presence, we end up proclaiming the judgment of a God who is removed from our joy and play, and who has nothing of value to say to our addictions and excesses. Perhaps this Advent we can consider a different way to view our calling. Perhaps we can proclaim – in word and action – the God who is present in the midst of our celebrations, and who seeks to connect with us, and we can invite people to prepare their hearts to encounter this God. We can offer people ways to be come more aware of God’s presence in the midst of our celebrations, and we can invite them into the life that comes from embracing the values and principles of God’s Reign. And perhaps we can do this work of proclamation less through our words and more through actions that demonstrate an alternative way of being and that demonstrate God’s grace and compassion, God’s justice and mercy, God’s concern for the poor and marginalised, the broken and grieving, the excluded and rejected. And perhaps we can recognise that the people that need to hear this message of hope and joy are often in our own families, churches and neighbourhoods. If we can become those who both receive the message of God’s Advent messengers and who proclaim the presence of God in our world and our lives, we may well discover that the people around us are eager to receive our message.

Why Do You Bother?
Preparing The Way

Hymn Suggestions:
The Voice Of God Is Calling
Days Of Elijah (Link to YouTube video)
God With Us (Link to YouTube video)
Consuming Fire (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for Advent and Christmas