Summary: The greatest Christmas present we could give anyone is to tell them about Jesus
John the Baptist
Story: Helen Keller tells of the dramatic moment when Anne Sullivan first broke through her dark, silent world with the illumination of language:
“We walked down the path to the well house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered.
Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout.
As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly.
I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers.
Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.
I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant that wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.
That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”
The moment Helen Keller describes is that moment her world of darkness was shattered with the light of language.
Although she was the same person physically, her life was transformed.
She now had a way she could see and understand.
Spiritually speaking, people are living in a world of darkness.
Some of you may recognize the words to the Simon and Garfunkel song from the 70’s entitled The Sound of Silence: “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.”
(my thanks to Devin Hudson for the information at http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-true-light-devin-hudson-sermon-on-john-the-baptist-42780.asp)
Nothing has changed that much from the 70’s
People are living in spiritual darkness and they need divine illumination.
So often they don’t realize it
For as Helen Keller said, she only realised she was living in darkness when she saw the light of human language
So it is with us.
We often only realize our darkness when we see the light of Christ
We are in Advent, a time as Bishop Stephen (Bishop Stephen Conway, current Lord Bishop of Ely) said in his latest Diocesan letter when
“….it is our special pleasure to wait for the coming of the past. During Advent we rehearse our salvation history by particular reflection upon the revelation of God in the Old Testament and the promise of prophecy that the Messiah will come”
The ministry of John the Baptist, the star of our Gospel reading today , was prophesied in the last chapter of the Old Testament – Malachi 4:5 and 6
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
And with that the Old Testament ends and the voice of prophecy is silent for 300 years.
Three of the four Gospels begin with the life and ministry of John the Baptist – the forerunner of Jesus Christ the Messiah.
You might be forgiven in asking why?
Why does John the Baptist figure so prominently?
Well one reason is that John’s life and ministry was prophesied in the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi
1 "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:1)
For the message and ministry of Jesus Christ (including his death and resurrection) is the fulfilment of the Old Testament.
2. The Messenger
Why did God have to send a messenger ahead of His Son Jesus.
The only reasonable answer I can come up with is that in those days, kings were preceded by a messenger announcing their arrival to the local population.
The messenger would go ahead and let people know the king was coming, so people could
i) repair their part of the local road on which the king would travel – and
ii) be ready to welcome him.
John wasn’t there by chance – the right man at the right time.
John was there because God had CALLED John to be the messenger who went ahead of Jesus.
So you might wonder why, when John is calling people to repentance - the Jewish leaders were so concerned WHO John the Baptist was.
Were they missing the point?
I don’t think so, but to understand why we need to consider the political climate of the time
Judea was a hotbed of unrest.
The Helmand province of the Roman Empire
The Jews harked back to the golden days of Judas Maccabeus
In 167 BC Judas Maccabees (his name means the Hammer) had led a successful revolt against Antiochus IV the Seleucid King of Syria who had invaded the country and taken Jerusalem.