Rev. Andrew Cunnington
24th June 2018
A Quick Change Act

I always think it’s a pity that when the junior church children come to the front at the end of the service to tell us what they’ve been doing, we never share anything back with them. So I thought we would put that right this morning and produce a little drama based on the story we have just heard of the birth of John The Baptist. You know, a nativity play by grown ups.

So I need to start by casting some characters.

To begin with, I am looking for a mature lady of a serious disposition, and then I need an older man who doesn’t say very much, perhaps a husband struggling to get a word in edgeways. That sort of person.

Gossips – I need around 20 gossips. People who like to be up to date with the news, you know what I mean – and will have an opinion to share.

And then some walk on parts – no words to learn for you – but high on the body language.

Oh and there is one thing about this play – you need to be ready for a quick change act.

The serious minded lady, you need to be ready to jump for joy.

Quiet man, must be ready to shout out loud.

The gossips need to be ready to sing and dance… and the walk on parts need to be ready to take centre stage.

For let’s be clear our play is the nativity of John The Baptist – and in this story, nothing and no one stays the same. All are completely changed.

Let’s flesh out the characters a bit more so you can decide who you might like to be.

Our serious minded lady is of course, Elizabeth – the mother of John. She dearly wanted a family but the blessing never came. In those days you could be pushed to the edge of things because of that. So Elizabeth probably thought she was a failure. Someone who had fallen short. Maybe she had only few friends. And then one day. One momentous day, she feels a stirring in her womb, and the news, the unbelievable news that she is to give birth to a son. Elizabeth changes. A life of emptiness becomes a life of fullness, because of the grace of God, and she jumps for joy.

Our quiet man is her husband Zechariah. I think maybe he buried his disappointments in his religious duties down at the temple. And it was when he was on duty, God spoke to him and told him that he would be a Father to a Son. And such was the tight web of protection he had drawn around himself that he could not believe it. He becomes defensive and questioning – how can this be – he exclaims. He tightens right up and cannot say a word until the child is born. Then and only then is his tongue freed and he exclaims – he is to be named John. Zechariah changes. An ever tightening life becomes loosened, because of the grace of God. And he praises the Lord.

The people of the town possibly held this couple at arms length. Felt a bit sorry for them. Talked about them a bit behind their backs and then at the birth of the child, well, they are incredulous at it all. The gossips change from disinterest to complete amazement because of the grace of God, and they join in with Elizabeth’s joy.

Then people from throughout Judea hear about the birth and as soon as they do, they pin huge hopes upon the child so miraculously conceived. They come in from the edge, they come in from the country to find out what’s happening. What will this child become, they ask excitedly. And they were excited because here were people who had begun to feel as if God was remote to them. They were hoping for something new, but not sure how or when it would come. So when the child is grown up and sets up his stall in the wilderness – they are the first to come running to his call – repent and be baptised.

The walk on parts change from forlorn and forsaken – to forgiven because of the grace of God. And they want only to worship.

The birth of John The Baptist is not set up as a festival day in our church because it is about the story of one birth, but rather it is about the rebirth of everyone involved.

The overall theme is that all the characters in the story move from captivity to freedom. From death to life. From despair to hope.

And it all ends in one place. It all ends up in a church service – well temple worship!

For they share in Elizabeth’s joy. They praise God in unison with Zechariah. They are bursting with awe and wonder… and Zechariah leads the way with a new hymn – the Benedictus which we recite every morning in our prayers in church and at Choral Evensong each month.

Their praise is heightened still further, for they understand that if God reaches into the lives of these two people, he can reach into the lives of any. They reflect in their hearts that which Paul was to write in our Epistle this morning. No one need be distanced from the love of God. All may draw near. All are equally valued. All are deeply loved.

And John’s waters of baptism became the place of the change, where in an instant your old life would be submerged and you would emerge with the same quick change act as befell the characters in this morning’s high octane drama nativity play.

Emptiness to fullness. Ever tightening to ever loosening. Disinterest into amazement. Forsakenness into forgiveness. It is the pattern of living for the baptised church of today and it is the mission statement for all that we have to do to make Christ’s mark upon the world.

For if John was the forerunner of this holy revolution – and Jesus Christ was the living embodiment of it, we are those now called to follow on.

And we live in a world where that which John came to change still holds sway and it produces an inclination to fear rather than to truly love.

So easily caught in Elizabeth’s former emptiness. Resources are scarce. These are the days of austerity. So keep your distance from me.

Jesus hungered and thirsted upon the cross so shares that reality.

So easily caught in Zechariah’s former tightness. I have nothing to say to you beyond keep your hands off what is mine.

Jesus felt completely abandoned on the cross. His cries became mute, so he shares that reality.

So easily caught in disinterest of their towns folk, not really interested in that sad old couple down the street, can’t you see I’ve got enough troubles of my own.

The passers by at the cross derided his failure to be the son of God they yearned for. So he shares that reality.

So easily caught up in the sense of being forlorn and forsaken that dogged the lives of those round about. Does anyone truly care for anyone unless profit is involved.

Jesus felt that forsakenness too when he cried out to his father and there was no response. He shares the reality.

Dig deeper into the bible, excavate your own heart. scratch even the surface of this world and you will find a sharper cutting edge to this little story than you ever imagined.

Time has passed. I don’t think we will have time for the play. Not this week any way.

But we can still make the move in our lives and show it if not in dramatic form but actual day to day living and week by week worship.

From emptiness to fullness…

From ever tightening to ever loosening…

From disinterest to amazement…

From forsakenness to forgiveness…

And it all came together in praise and joy with all the people as one.

I need some volunteers for that one part… a worshipping people… thank you… I knew you would step forward…

LUKE 1: 57-66