Summary: Our task as a Church is to continue the work of John the Baptist, to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the one who’s brought salvation to all people and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to renew us and transform us.
It’s now just over 15 years since Mulder and Scully first appeared in the series ’The X-Files’, asking "Could there be something out there?" Mulder believed that the ’Truth is out there’ but Scully wasn’t quite sure. Of course, although the questions they were raising echoed those of lots of people, they weren’t new questions. People have always wondered about life beyond this material existence. There’s too much in our experience that we can’t explain without having some sort of supernatural or spiritual explanation. That’s why ’The X-Files’ seemed to strike a chord with so many people.
The people of John the Baptist’s day were asking similar questions, wondering whether God was still with them, or whether he’d ever speak to them again. Today we’re going to think about the similarities between Then and Now. First the Longing, Then and Now then
A Message of Hope, Then and Now and finally
Its Promise, Then and Now
The Longing, Then and Now
For the people of Israel, there was always an expectation that God would speak to them. The Living God, the creator of the universe had revealed himself to them long ago. He’d called Abraham to form a nation that was meant to demonstrate to the surrounding peoples how great God was, how good he was, how much he blesses those who are faithful to him. But even they must have had lots of questions by the time John came on the scene. It’d been 400 years since God had sent a prophet to speak to them. In those 400 years their fortunes as a nation had looked a bit like the last year on the stock market. The Temple had been desecrated by the Greeks, the Maccabees had organised a rebellion and won back the city of Jerusalem, but then the Romans had come along and defeated them once again. And now they were a subject nation, waiting to see if God was still interested in them.
The man who created ’The X-Files’, Chris Carter, was asked about the quasi-religious aspects of the show. He said: "I think of myself as a non-religious person looking for religious experience." His longing was for something beyond his immediate experience. I guess he wanted to know that we’re not alone in the universe, that there’s something beyond us that we can call upon for help if we need it. I guess you know this is a common theme in popular culture. We long for a Superman, a Batman, a Greatest American Hero, if you remember him, to come and save us from ourselves. Except of course that those are all just fictional characters.
But the Jews were people of the Book. They knew and trusted their Scriptures. So when they read God’s promise to send a saviour, a Messiah, to save them from their enemies they believed it. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, there were those like Anna and Simeon who were faithfully waiting for the salvation that God had promised.
So you can imagine the excitement when this strange man John appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It didn’t take long for the word to get around. You didn’t need CNN or the channel 9 helicopter to bring live footage of John preaching by the Jordan. Word of mouth was sufficient. Here was the one they’d been waiting for.
In fact Malachi’s final prophecy had promised just such a messenger: "Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse." (Mal 4:5-6 NRSV) Notice how Mark describes John here: "6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." This is exactly how Elijah is described in 2 Kings 1. Here John appears in the guise of a second Elijah, a messenger bringing God’s call to repent, to turn back to God so the curse might be removed from the land.
A Message of Hope, Then and Now
This was a message of hope not just for then, but for now as well; in fact it was a message for all time. Mark begins his account of Jesus’ life with these words: "The beginning of the good news [or gospel] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." This gospel is the eternal gospel, proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation. In fact in Revelation 14 we see an angel flying in mid-heaven, proclaiming the eternal gospel: "7Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."