Sunday, December 11, 2011

the ministry of John


Sermon notes: 11 December 2011 (3nd of Advent)

May my words be in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit – Amen.

Today is the 3rd Sunday in Advent, also known as Gaudate Sunday – Gaudate meaning rejoice in Latin … it is the Sunday during the sombre and penitential season of advent when we rejoice in the anticipation of the coming of our Lord

last week we talked about John the Baptist/Forerunner as someone who left a relatively comfortable home to go out into the wilderness to lead a life of poverty and hardship … we spoke about his intensely religious upbringing in a family of priests and prophets … always with the knowledge of the prophecies about himself in the back of his mind … and that surely, even as he saw himself as a forerunner of the one who was to come, he also must have taken intense satisfaction and joy from knowing that he was fulfilling God's will for his life and playing a major part in preparing the way for the promised and long awaited Messiah …

we stopped at the point where Jesus comes to him for baptism … and wondered what it must have been like for John, to know that his work had been to prepare the way for another … and I suggested that it must have been intensely satisfying … knowing that he had done the will of God … that like the other prophets who had gone before him he had pointed the way towards the Messiah … that he had been part of the mission of the whole people of Israel in helping prepare all the nations, all the world, for the one who was to come …

Many often feel somewhat uncomfortable at the fact that Jesus went to John for Baptism … John's baptism, after all, was for remission of sin … various theories have been put forward … in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says that it must be done to fulfil all righteousness … but doesn't say how his baptism accomplishes this … it is often seen as a mark of Jesus' humility that the one without sin would submit to it in any case … part of his solidarity with sinful humanity …

but perhaps it was also a way in which he linked himself with John's ministry … a necessary step … if John has prepared the way, and has been the forerunner of Christ, then what better way to associate oneself with that ministry than to undergo John's baptism, whether one needs it or not … and of course, John said that his baptism was with water only, and the one who came after would baptise with the holy Spirit … and the Holy Spirit was to descend on Jesus at this Baptism … making it a very firm transitional point between one ministry and the other …

So what was this ministry of John's that helped prepare the way for Jesus?

First, it was a ministry of presence … John gave up a comfortable life to live in the desert … he showed that material things were not of the first importance … whether clothes … personal appearance … possessions … food …

But he also showed that he was not above justice in the material world … he knew that not all could live his life … and when those in authority came to him … soldiers and those who collected taxes for the Romans, he told them to be fair to those they dealt with … be satisfied with your pay and do not extort more … collect only the taxes that you must … a message of social justice without political revolution …

he also challenged the religious authorities in a major way … after all, he called them a brood of vipers to their face!

And his challenge to King Herod's marriage demonstrated his conviction that no one above the moral laws … that wealth and power did not create an entitlement to live in a way that was unacceptable for the rest of society …
Looked at in that way, we can see that there were common themes between John's message and that of Jesus … clearly there were difference … he had nothing like the same power or authority that Jesus displayed … and his ministry essentially came to an end with his death … whereas with Jesus it was his death that truly gave life to his movement … yet nonetheless, he did in a very real way prepare the way for Jesus in his ministry … he prepared the people for the kind of message that Jesus was to preach … and many of Jesus earliest and closed followers had originally been followers of John … or at least had gone out to see and hear and be baptised by him …

I said at the beginning that John would have found joy in his role … I think we also should rejoice in what it was that John did … even as we rejoice in the memory of Jesus' first coming … and indeed rejoice in the thought that he will come again … and especially rejoice in the thought that with God's grace we can play our part also in making ourselves and all others ready for that glorious second coming … which is my prayer for all God's children at this joyous time of year … Amen.

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