Zephaniah 3:14-20 Canticle 3
Philippians 4:4-7 Luke 3:7-18
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist was one of those remarkable people who spoke the truth regardless of the cost. He spoke truth to power by criticising Herod for his inappropriate marriage to his sister-in-law; that outspokenness would cost him his head. But he also spoke straight-up to the ordinary people around him, everyday folks just grubbing along trying to survive in an unforgiving world.
Over the course of human existence we have made remarkable advances. The sciences and technology have soared, and are destined to develop more wonderful things, if managed right. From the first tool and the harnessing of fire, we have built a world of labour-saving devices and conveniences that are astounding. The invention of medicines and surgeries mean that we can keep these bodies of ours going way beyond their ordinary expiry date. And there is more to come as smart-brained people have ‘Eureka’ moments in the laboratory. But it all depends on us managing things well. We are so keen to progress we are prone to overlook the consequences and are now facing the real prospect of climate change and all its ugliness. We are facing a toxic environment where we can’t drink our water or swim in our lakes. We are over-using our medicines so that they cease to have an effect on the diseases that may destroy us.
But also over the course of human history we have developed a crude form of civilisation, where people submit themselves to the rule of others in the name of peace, or rather survival. And to help us put up with this we have developed the arts, which help us record, describe and understand our history, social evolution and the world we live in, in all its ugliness and beauty. And today we are only marginally better off than we were two thousand years ago when John the Baptist spoke.
He knew the world he lived in could be improved, as he got his hope in religion. “How ?” is what the people asked him and he gave them the straight goods. We should ask the same questions and take his advice. And not just us folks here today but the whole world should listen to John.
John tells us don’t be greedy, take no more than our due or what we need to live. There are enough resources, more than enough, for us to live on, but by holding too closely the things we possess for the inevitable rainy-day, we only bring on the rainy-day for others. This applies to our governments, our institutions and us. Lord knows what would happen if the Church decided to share all its wealth in a better world, good things would happen. Right now that wealth would only be sucked-up by those with the advantage over others and the rest would be no better-off.
John also says to the powerful ‘don’t bully the less powerful’. In their desire for control of their own lives, individuals, enterprises and institutions control the lives of others, it’s basic human nature, all emanating from the absolute need to survive. Everything that lives has as its first priority to survive. Trees grow out of the cliff face against all odds with no soil, flowers smell nice so they will have fertile seeds, bees store honey for winter so they won’t starve, bacteria evolve protections against our best medicines so they will have another generation, and we put money in the bank so we can buy what we need.
John had faith that eventually all the bad in the world would be destroyed by One amazing person, Jesus the Son of God, He alone would have the power to do it. Jesus the Messiah, the One anointed by God is to separate the wheat from the chaff, as John put it, and would do it through us. That One man would inspire the world to drop its bad ways and assure survival to all people. That is why we celebrate His Birth in this season. When our world is turning towards darkness, both literally and figuratively, Jesus has come to turn this world around to the light, to the light of God. Salvation in this world and the next comes only through Jesus. Listen to Him just as the people were called to listen to John out of desperation for the state of their world, we must listen to Jesus in ours. / The promises from God are too good to be ignored. Zephaniah records God’s promise to restore what was lost, God will restore our spirits with new hope, change the hearts and minds of oppressors, restore the disadvantaged to fullness of life, and shame will be replaced with pride.
Isaiah reminds us that we will not only benefit from God’s salvation but we are to tell the whole world about it. Frankly, we get an ‘F’ in this department, we can’t even persuade our own children that they need salvation and that it is so readily available to them. They seem to say that mum and dad will get it for them, parents have provided for their every need so far, surely they will do the Salvation thing for them too. Well No ! This is one thing that mum and dad can’t do. We have to come to the water and drink for ourselves. “Have one for me” doesn’t work here ! At Christmas when we rejoice at the Birth of Jesus, Rejoice so much that our over-committed children, friends and neighbours can’t help but want to join in on our celebrations. Bring Grace to the dinner table, give thanks to God for the presents, the colours, the decorations, the music and the Goodwill, all of which ultimately spring from the Goodness of God and are available and given to us from God’s own generosity. I say again Rejoice ! Amen and Alleluia !