The Third Sunday of Advent - 12th December 2020
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 1 Thessalonians 5: 16- 24 John 1:6-8, 19-28
Rev David Stranack
As we approach Christmas we are going through a very strange time. There is so much uncertainty about the virus, about how we should celebrate Christmas and with whom, and uncertainty about Brexit, about our national economy, about unemployment and even about our national unity. Strange times indeed. And yet the great message of Christmas that we recognize as Christians, even if the world about us seems to miss the point, is a message of hope. Not a ‘keeping our fingers crossed’ sort of hope but a sure and certain hope that has been revealed to us through the person of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Christian hope rests upon our understanding of what God has already achieved for us by sending Jesus to be born of a woman to live a human life and also who gave himself to die on a cross. Our hope rests also on the past fact, as described in 1 Peter 1:3: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. It is that certainty which makes our Christian hope into a really sure and certain hope.
During Advent we look forward to the coming into the world of the birth of that real hope. And during Advent the church reminds us of the amazing and very different preparations that God made for the arrival of his Son into our world and also reminds us that we need to make a response by preparing ourselves to receive him into our lives. God prepares for our Lord’s arrival through the words of the Old Testament Prophets, through John the Baptist and also through the message of the angel Gabriel to Mary.
In today’s reading from John’s Gospel we heard again about John the Baptist. In his first chapter, St John describes John the Baptist in this way: ‘He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light’. (John 1.7-8) Then later in the reading we heard how John saw himself simply as a ‘Voice, crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” ’, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold. John was not seeking any glory for himself. His only desire was to prepare the way for one who was infinitely greater than he. John was pointing to the coming Messiah and telling the people that they were to prepare for the coming of the Saviour. And that preparation begins with the call to ‘Repent’, and he says to his listeners, as a sign of that repentance, as a sign that they are preparing for the coming of God’s Kingdom they were to come forward and be baptized in water as an outward sign of a new inner renewal. This Messiah would come to establish his Kingdom upon earth.
One Sabbath in Nazareth at his local Synagogue Jesus was asked to read and he read from Isaiah 61:“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted,to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” and then afterwards he said: ‘‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. ’These words stand as Christ’s 'mission statement', by which his actions and teaching are to be guided and judged. This tells us something about the kind of Kingdom Jesus was about to set up on earth. What Jesus came to do was to bring good news to the oppressed – the good news that God loves and cares about all people and especially those who are rejected or abused by others – and if we wish to belong to his kingdom, we too should care about such people.
Jesus came to bind up the broken-hearted, to console those whose hearts are broken through the lack of real love in their lives. So many today do not experience the joy of real love or have been on the receiving end of anger and hate instead. Jesus came to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. So many are imprisoned by feelings of guilt and failure, of fear and hopelessness. Many too are blind to the needs and struggles of others and have a limited vision and understanding of the trut. And Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, or in other words to announce the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, a kingdom to which we are called and invited to belong now, in this life, as we put our faith and trust in him. So that was our Lord’s ‘mission statement’ as he came to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.
And it is for this kingdom that John the Baptist calls on us to prepare. John challenges his listeners to “Make straight the way of the Lord” (v.23).
We are to prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus once again into our lives at this Christmas celebration. And so we do well to prepare ourselves by setting aside some quality time for him, by making ourselves available to him, in spite of the busy-ness and rush of our Christmas preparations. Does not our world today need Christ’s kind of kingdom more than anything else? As I said at the beginning we are living through such strange and uncertain times. There is much to feel depressed about. We reach out for hope and yet hope seem so far off. But yet we know that hope is not an illusion, is not a figment of our optimistic imagination.Our Christian hope is a sure a certain hope based on the way God has stood by his people down the ages, on the way he has supported us in our own lives, and also on the way he stands by so many who are facing today’s challenges with courage and determination.
For just as God strengthened and inspired people to achieve great things in the past, that same God is here to strengthen and inspire us to go out in the name of Christ and, empowered by his Holy Spirit , to be the people of hope in our generation.Yes, we are called by the grace of God to be the people who represent Christ’s kingdom today – that kingdom of love, compassion, reconciliation and self-giving service to those about us. John the Baptist calls us the ‘repent’. The Biblical definition of repent, of metanoia, is about making a complete heart and mind change of direction (180° turn) toward God. Yes, we are called to turn ourselves around toward God so that we can reflect his light, his ways, in our daily lives and to show that spirit of ‘certain hope’, of real Christian optimism, that he has given us.
If you long to see a better world, don’t just wring your hands in despair. Instead, let each of us make a decision that our own priority in life will be to live Christ’s way, to maintain his standard to spread his love and hope. In these coming Advent days, leading up to Christmas, let us make some extra time to spend with God and in that silence with him, let us keep praying to him: may ‘your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’, and then add ‘please begin with me’.