Rev. Rosemary Webb
4th December 2016
Prepare the Way

And a voice called out in the desert ‘prepare a way for the Lord make straight paths for him’. The voice, not of some rich and powerful man, but someone dressed like a rough sleeper, wearing a garment made of camel’s hair, with a belt round his waist who dined off locusts and honey.

This was John the Baptist preparing the people to meet Jesus, perhaps he was eccentric, but he was fearless. He knew he would attract attention, perhaps even hatred, but he knew what his mission was, he knew he was called to be the fulfilment of that great prophesy of Isaiah’s, ‘A shoot shall come up from the stump of Jesse… that shoot which will stand as a banner for the peoples, his place of rest will be glorious.’

Yes, John knew that the root was his cousin Jesus and that he was called to prepare the way for him. Just as his mother Elizabeth had supported Mary early in her pregnancy, so he would support Jesus in his early ministry.

He knew that they were both of the house of David and that Jesse was David’s father; John knew the scriptures and that he would be a pivotal part of them. That God had come to earth as Jesus, to bring hope and prayer to his chosen race the people of Israel. And John knew that then as now the first thing he must do was to call the people to repent, they had to humble themselves and confess their sins, and then he would give them the cleaning waters of baptism.

It surely is a sad reflection on God’s children that the passage from Isaiah this morning is still waiting to be fully fulfilled. The birth has, of course, been fulfilled but not the living in peace and harmony, the world is still rebellious, still full of greed, anger and prejudice. Still full of people who like the Pharisees think they know better than God.

Why can’t the world listen and learn, why do we still have politicians, world leaders calling for hatred, decrying people for who they are, where they were born? And what makes it worse there are many cases when it is done by people who claim to be Christian – why do they do it. Is it because unlike John they are not fearless, is it that they have so little faith that they are scared, that like wild animals they attack through fear of the other person?

Money doesn’t make anyone great, it is the way people reach out, what they achieve for the good of other people that makes them great.

John the Baptist is an example of how we should lead our lives. He knew he was related to Jesus but he didn’t say, this man is my cousin, I know him well, that makes me special too. He didn’t brag like so many of today’s politicians do. No he called people to repent and serve God; he didn’t claim any fame for himself. And he knew it would be difficult but he wasn’t going to be intimidated by the Pharisees and Sadducees; he knew their commitment to God was based on their interpretation of the scriptures, not on the true word of God.

Isn’t that one of the great problems facing us today, people claiming to be Christian and in the same sentence calling for persecution, saying people are evil, there is no place for them in whatever country the speaker is from. We should always remember that everyone is a child of God.

What must Jesus be thinking today? We know he wept over Jerusalem, how much more must he be weeping over the world now. How can we be Christian if we do not love one another, we may not like everyone but we must at least try to love everyone.

So what are we being called to do. Perhaps like Isaiah we are being called to go into the wilderness. Where is there a wilderness near here you may ask? Well what about the alleyway into the marketfield car park where a teenager was stabbed in the mouth last week. Into parks and playgrounds where a child is being bullied. Or look at social media where there is so much bullying, abuse, just perhaps what you would call nastiness. And there are many other examples in our society where there are signs of hatred, and while, it’s probably not fair to say it is totally ignored, nothing seems to be done about it.

We have to challenge authorities where they are not fulfilling their responsibility. I can’t remember the exact figure but I read last week the number of children missing from schools, is thousands, why? We don’t live in a geographical wilderness; the wilderness we live in is of our own making. For surely the wilderness is where God is ignores, or if not ignored pushed to the back.

Why are we impressed by politicians, people on the media, who seem to think wealth and power are the only signs of success, who so often call for those who are unable to cope to be excluded; those who keep wanting to turn the clock back to some imaginary time when this land was a land of milk and honey. I remember the 1940’s and 50’s there was dreadful poverty, back to back houses with no inside loo’s, that was no utopia.

I said we should challenge authorities and I think we should also challenge the media for painting false pictures of what brings happiness. That if we can afford this or that we will be happy, that we must have the latest gadget or we really are missing out. In our hearts of hearts we all know that is not true. My now adult children still recall how they were school age before they had any idea the TV had more than one channel, and even when they did know viewing was restricted, I had refused to let them know there was such a thing as adverts. I couldn’t see the point. Mind you they still view me as rather odd! But I don’t think it did them any harm. Even some adults seem to have a problem differentiating between fact and fiction!

So what can we learn from John the Baptist. Perhaps people came to him because they sensed hope when they heard him preach. His language was uncompromising, but they could tell he was leading to a place where there was hope. They could tell he was speaking the truth, that he was not offering false promises. He told them there was a way out of the wilderness, they were not hopelessly trapped. That everyone can seek God’s help, seek his forgiveness, accept his love. That is as true today as two thousand years ago.

The words of John the Baptist must be carried into the areas of wilderness in our world today. The messengers will not be dressed like him, don’t need to follow his diet, but what they need is the same determination to call people to God to show them there is a better path to follow, and perhaps in some instances that they are loved. They may think society hates them but God loves them and us warts and all.

So this Advent let us commit ourselves, as John did, to prepare the way of the Lord in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. To teach that God is waiting for the world to turn to him, and that all is takes is for us to accept his sacrificial love.

Mt 3:1-12
Isaiah 11:1-10