Isaiah 40:1-11 Psalm 85:7-13
Acts 13:14b-26 Luke 1:57-80
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today is an Holy Day in the Church for it marks the Birth of St. John the Baptist, the last prophet that God ever called. Prophets did two things, one, predict the future, and two teach. John predicted and taught the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. After Jesus no more prophets are necessary for Jesus is the full and final Revelation. There never was nor is there a reason to have another prophet after John, despite what other religions claim about their leaders, and anyone who teaches other than that is not a Christian and therefore follows a false religion.
For centuries the Jews had hoped for a Messiah, a Saviour who would free them from the oppression of foreign powers, the way Moses, following God’s command, had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. That was not to be because the Jews in their worship of God had been sidetracked into pettiness and display, and had in essence forsaken God and had become nit-pickers of the Law hoping that absolute and complete adherence to the Law would grant them Salvation. Well they should have known that human perfection is not possible. They should have known that it is only the Grace of God that can save us from our overzealous or our indifferent selves, in our different levels of belief and commitment.
So God sent His only Son Jesus to Redeem us but first the barren soil of Jewry had to be prepared. To do that God sent the Last Prophet, John, whose very name means the ‘Grace of God’. The last word in the Old Testament is ‘curse’ John the Baptist was the one called to blot out that curse by Grace. Malachi foretold that an ‘Elijah’ would return to do the task and he did in the person of John (Matthew 11:13-14). John prophesied the coming of the Christ and prepared the way for Him, for God had determined that His Son was not coming into the world without an herald to announce His arrival.
John’s teaching was to call the people to repent from their wicked ways. They had made the Law a fetish but at the same time took advantage of each other whenever they could; cheating was ok; righteousness had gone right out the window. The people needed a wake-up call and they got it from John who was not averse to calling them “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34) and probably worse. John’s birth marked the beginning of a new order by offering the Jews a way out of their wicked ways. The way their religion was, was that a sacrifice could be made at the Temple and all would be forgotten. But that did not call for a change of heart, one could leave the Temple, do the same sin, and return to make another sacrifice. All that happened was that the Temple got richer because of all the fees they charged. John saw that the whole process had become a fraud. His teaching called for people to repent of the wrongs they had done, to be contrite, and to wash away their sin symbolically by being baptised, then the Messiah would come, the more he baptised the sooner the Messiah would come.
As you know Jesus was baptised by John. But surely you say Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, had no sin to wash away and none to repent. You are right. The Jewish rite of baptism that John adapted originally was to wash away real physical grime before taking on a religious duty, it was an act of physical purification. That is what Jesus did He was baptised immediately prior to starting His earthly ministry. The Baptism we have today from John embraces both, cleansing of sin and commissioning for ministry. That’s what we did when we were baptised. And the vows we make witness that and therefore should not be taken lightly, they are vows before God. Treat them any other way, and we are back to the perfunctory sacrifices in the Temple and insulting God.
At our recent Synod, I was very impressed by the words of our Primate, Fred Hiltz, when he spoke of what Christians really are. He said the Church is not a social club, or a charitable institution, nor an organisation just doing good works; No ! The Church is the Body of Christ and that as we are the Church we are also the Body of Christ. Yes that involves being involved in society doing charitable and other good works, but we are more than that. We are people who have been baptised into Christ’s Death to Sin and into the Resurrection of Everlasting Life. And moreover we have been anointed and have become Christ’s own forever.
From the day of our baptisms we are dead to Sin, when we do fall back into Sin, we can confess, repent and be forgiven, because we are already grafted into the Body of Christ, which guarantees us Redemption. Does that mean we can sin as much as we want and confess, repent and be forgiven, by no means, that would be an insult to God Himself (Romans 6:15) playing games, being insincere before God. It’s not a game we are playing, our eternal souls hang in the balance. Do whatever you can to preserve them. The first step is baptism. It is the gift that John the Baptist gave us, it is an outward sign of an inner grace, and the first of the two great Sacraments. Treat your baptism as such, it is the first vital step on The Way to eternal life: on The Way hills will be made low before you, valleys will rise to your feet, The Way will be straight and the ground made even and God will bless you on your Way. Amen.