Sunday, December 14, 2014


May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

As I've said all through Advent, rather than preaching on the four last things this year - death, judgement, heaven, and hell – I'm instead simply going to remind you of them each week and ask that you use them as a lens to consider what it is that our readings have to say to us as we journey through Advent. In any event, I always find it a difficult topic on this Sunday, the third Sunday, Gaudate Sunday, the Sunday when we kind of take a break from the penitential aspect of the season. Guadate is from the Latin and means 'rejoice' and it's difficult to rejoice if one is dwelling on the somewhat grim seeming topic of the four last things! So I thought instead today I'd think about John the Baptist, who is the focus of our readings,  and the causes in his life that he had to rejoice.

I don't think rejoicing is the first thing people think of when they think of John the Baptist. He's the guy living out in the desert, dressed in scratchy camel hair, living on bugs, warning people of the wrath to coming, and telling them to repent of their sins. Not most people's idea of a good time. But you know I bet that John was a happy guy – why? Because he was doing the Lord's work – he was doing what God called him to do and even though it was tough, he was surely rejoicing in the Lord all the time.

Now you and I might think how could a hard life like John's be joyful? Well, remember, this person we see in the Bible did not spring fully grown wearing rags and shouting 'repent' from his mother's womb. He started out as a baby like everyone else; and that baby grew into a boy and then into a teenager; and if he was anything like teenagers today then he probably felt a bit different to everyone around him, maybe like he didn't fit in. Only in this case, John would have been right. He was different. First, he came from a priestly family. Remember, in ancient Israel priests weren't chosen like today – where a person feels a calling and then goes and talks to the Church about it and goes through a whole process of selection and training; you were born into it. If yours was a priestly family, then all the men would end up being priests – and from the very beginning this would have marked John out as being different.

As well as that, there would have been all the prophesies made at the time of his birth – the prophesy made by the Archangel Gabriel by his father in the temple, and those made by his father when he was given the name John and his father who had been unable to speak since meeting the angel suddenly started talking again and prophesying about what his son would become. People would have heard all this, they would have kept them in the back of their minds, and it would have been hard for them not to look at John differently. Teenagers always seem to think people are staring at them, and most of the time they're just imagining it, but in John's case he would have been right. People were looking at him, and wondering.

Now to start with he probably thought it was because he looked different to the other boys. Oh yes, even then he looked different. Remember what the Archangel Gabriel said: he was never to taste wine or strong drink – and that means more than just being teetotal – that means he was to be a Nazarite – and perhaps you can remember another Nazarite in the Bible? Samson – and you'll no doubt remember that part of that meant never cutting your hair, or combing it either. And even though the boys back then wore their hair longer than is common nowadays, this would really have made John stand out.

But then the day came when his mum or his dad or maybe both took his aside and told him: 'Son, we've got some stuff to tell you.' And then his dad would have told him what the angel said, about his bringing many people back to God and preparing people for the Lord; and his mum would have told him about the visit from her cousin Mary and how she had known that the child in her womb, his cousin Jesus, was the Lord, the Messiah; and his father would have told him about the prophesy that he himself had made at the time they decided to call him John, in accordance with the angel's prophesy, and he had told all present that his son was to be a prophet, who would go before the Lord to prepare his way, and to give knowledge of salvation to God's people.

And in a moment he goes from being the somewhat odd but basically ordinary John, a young man with a bad haircut – or rather a bad no hair cut – to being John the Prophet, John the forerunner of the Messiah, John the one who is going to call people to repentance from their sins and save the souls of many. And I can only think he reacted with – great! This is fantastic! This is brilliant! I have been specially chosen by God! Joyful? He must have been over the moon! And that's why I think the life he led later, that seem hard from the outside was surely filled with joy, because it was fuelled by his understanding that he was called by God to do something incredibly important.

As have we all. It might not be as easy for us all to know what it is as it was for John, but be assured that he calls us all. He has a plan for us all. It may be great, it may be small, but guess what? The end is the same for all who are faithful to that call – being with God for eternity in heaven. Reason for us all to rejoice on this Gaudate Sunday. And so I pray that all here with be filled with that joy this day and always. Amen.  

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