Summary: The third candle of our wreath is said to symbolise John the Baptist, who I believe to be “The Beacon of Hope from the wilderness”.

The Beacon of Hope from the wilderness

Text Isaiah 40: 1-5 (NIV), John 1: 19- 23 (NIV)

In our first Sunday of Advent we looked briefly at the Patriarchs Noah and Abraham as pointers of promise, in particular the promise of the first coming of the Messiah as predicted in the book of Genesis. Last week we looked at Isaiah, whose words could be described as painting pictures of hope. This week, following the same train of thought which formed the basis of our first and second “Advent Sunday” teaching, the third candle of our wreath is said to symbolise John the Baptist, who I believe to be “The Beacon of Hope from the wilderness”

Whichever way you look at him, there is no escaping the fact that John the Baptist was unique, if he had been present in today’s world he would have been looked upon as an oddity; his words would almost certainly be looked upon as the ravings of a mad man of the same ilk as David Icke. Even in his own time, certain factions regarded him with disdain and thought he was mad but even they were troubled by his words.

As with Jesus, Isaiah prophesied John’s coming hundreds of years before. In verse three of this morning’s Old Testament reading he foretold of

“A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the LORD;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.”

John was indeed unique, he wore odd clothing and ate strange food, and he preached an unusual message to those who travelled into the wilderness to see him. John, however, did not aim at uniqueness for its own sake, his aim was obedience. He knew he had a specific role to play, which was to announce the coming of the Saviour and he invested all his energy into performing that role, it was a role for which he was called from before his birth and one he had been waiting to fulfil from the very first moment he was conceived. In Luke’s gospel we can read in verse’s eight to seventeen of chapter one, how the angel had announced his birth to his father Zechariah and had made it clear that the child was to be a Nazirite- which is one set apart for God’s service. John remained faithful to that calling and was ready and waiting when, as it says in Luke 3: 2, God’s word of direction was revealed to him.

As people drew near to hear his words, they may have been forgiven for having some doubts about this wild looking man. He had no power or position within the Jewish political system and yet the words he spoke had an irresistible authority about them. People were moved by them because he spoke the truth, challenging them to turn from their sins and then baptising them as a symbol of their repentance. Hundreds responded to his message, it would have been so easy for him to bask in their obvious adoration of him. How many here today have watched so- called American evangelists on television, who pretend to point to the Lord but are really so in love with their own public image? I don’t believe for one minute they intended it to happen but it’s easy to see why they lost sight of their real calling when surrounded with so many adoring fans who follow the preacher and not the one they preach about.

What did John do?

Instead of basking in his fame and the adoration accompanying it, he pointed beyond himself, never forgetting that his main role was to announce the coming of the Saviour. In this morning’s New Testament passage we read...

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders[a] in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Emphasising his unimportance even further, we can read in the following three verses...

“24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”’

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