Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent: the first coming prepares the way for the second

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

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and our Gospel reading shows us St John the Baptist doing his work unabashedly and unapologeticly on the banks of the Jordan, calling people to repentance and having no hesitation in pointing out the sins of those who come to them, caring not in the least if the one listening was a person of influence, power, or authority who might be more used to being talked to in a manner that was far more respectful of their position in society.

Now we can well understand, I think, why it is that we would think of John the Baptist during the season of Advent. This is the time when we think of the first coming of our Lord, when we try to enter into the spirit of that wondrous event so fully that it is almost as if we are trying to imagine that it is happening for the first time all over again and read ourselves into the story in such as way that it is almost as if we are present ourselves when the angel comes to Mary to let her know that she is to have a child even though she is a virgin, journey with her and Joseph in the cold of winter to Bethlehem; feel the pain of their rejection when they can find no room in the inn; and the wonder of the shepherds when the see the angels as they watch their flocks by night and then go to worship the child in the manger. 

And the story of John's birth is intimately tied up with that of our Lord's, making his story integral to the Christmas one. But our reading today does not deal with John's birth – it deals with his ministry, and we have his uncompromising figure standing in the wilderness, clothed in camel's hair tied up with a leather belt, telling people to repent, warning them of the wrath to come, when the one who comes after him will gather the wheat who are his faithful servants into the granary that is his eternal kingdom; but the sinful chaff will burnt in unquenchable fire. Grim stuff indeed for the lead up to Christmas!

But, of course, Advent is more than just getting ready for Christmas – it also about getting ready for the second coming of Christ. And that, as we all know – and should be reminded of if we have forgotten – is when he will come in power and majesty to judge the living and the dead. It is that fact that helps us to understand the passage that the Church has chosen for today's reading. For John the Baptist is the fore-runner of Christ; he is the one who prepares the way for the coming of the Messiah. And just as St John tells people to repent from their sins, so to will Christ call people to repentance. And the purpose of this repentance is, of course, to prepare people for when Christ will come again. 

This makes this scene we have from the ministry of St John in today's Gospel not only a very appropriate one for this season of our liturgical calendar, it makes it one that is vital for us to think deeply about. Because being ready for the time of our Lord's return is the issue upon which depends our eternal salvation – making it something of infinite importance and ultimately the only thing of this life that truly matters.

And note well the manner in which St John the Baptist goes about this work of saving souls. He bluntly tells people they are sinners in need of repentance. And he uses strong language indeed to do so – even calling the religious leaders who come to see him a brood of vipers. He is not, to use a modern term, very politically correct. Neither is he being, to use another word commonly used to day, non-judgemental. He is calling it not only as he sees it but as it is. And if that causes offence, so be it. 

But we have to ask ourselves what kind of behaviour is in the end better, in the end more loving: to say nothing, or to use only soothing, encouraging words, telling people that it really is their choice how they behave, and there is no eternal consequences for their actions; or telling them the truth, even if it does upset them to hear it, even if they do get angry, and take offence, and even shout and call you all the names the Politically Correct brigade reserve for those who speak the unvarnished truth these days? It can only be the latter – because it is the latter way of speaking that will help those who hear enter into the granary of Christ; while the former risks condemning them to the place of unquenchable fire. And just as John the fore-runner spoke and acted when it came to the salvation of souls, so also did the one who he came to prepare the way for.

And this, I think, must bring to our minds the joyful aspect of this season. For the one he came to prepare the way for came to open the way to heaven for us … and also to show us the way. He came to offer us the hope of a glorious and eternal future and to mark out clearly for us the path to that wonderful hope. The light of the world is coming into the world to light the way that leads to the everlasting light that exists in heaven, where we will need neither the sun nor moon nor lamps to give us light, for Christ himself will be our light. No wonder the angels in heaven, and all the human souls that have entered there, joyfully and always sing songs of praise to his glory. A glory that I pray all here will one day see; even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment