Opening Prayer Lord Jesus, you came as the living word, to be the voice of the voiceless. You came as the word made flesh to clothe the outcasts. You came as the light in the darkness to reassure the afraid. You came as the lamb of God, to redeem the brutal. You came from the womb of the Trinity to the womb of the earth, to sanctify all creation. You came and you come as the servant of love, at Advent and always Amen
Advent can be a very evocative, and reflective time as we make our way through the darkness of a year coming to an end, towards the light of a star hovering over a stable at Bethlehem. It is the beginning of the Church’s Calendar year and can bring a sense of anticipation, and permission to make a new beginning ourselves. It is a time of waiting of preparing, of reassessing. But just as we are about to settle down into a nice gentle rhythm and pattern in bursts John the Baptist with no manners and even less finesse!
Of all the people in the New Testament (excepting Jesus) John the Baptist is probably the most dramatic, the most dynamic and the most compelling and disturbing. He is the great Herald, the booming voice of Advent and speaks with alarming and provocative authority.
Prepare the way of the Lord. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good news.
There is no mistaking his meaning not like some public figures who say a lot and yet say nothing. John doesn't mince his words and he doesn't ramble. He is earthy flesh and blood proclaiming the divine. He had waited in the desert- perhaps having battled with his own temptations as Jesus did before his public ministry began and now his moment had come and he gives it everything. He put his whole heart and soul into his message and his sense of urgency, his sense that the time is now counter balances the waiting and preparing side of advent and this wake up call, this living invitation is John's great gift to us.
Repent now he says. Believe now. Follow now.
And not only does he in his ministry preach some of the most urgent words of scripture but also some of the most inspired. 'Behold the lamb of God' he says when he sees Jesus and glimpses something of the cost of Christ's calling
And he speaks too some of the most honest words and the most humble words- the one who comes after me is more powerful than me – I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals.
And with great insight he says I must decrease and Jesus must increase.
John the baptist had it all- the urgency, the obedience, the vision, the humility, the grace to be who he was truly called to be- no more- no less. Yet he too faced doubt later in his life when imprisoned and suddenly overwhelmed asks Jesus 'are you the one who is to come or should we expect some other?' He wasn't perfect, he didn't get it all right and he certainly wasn't Mr popular amongst the religious of his day but in fulfilling his vocation he challenges us to ask ourselves this Advent what is our vocation?
And it is a big question for us to ask – who are we truly called to be? And how do we balance passion and urgency and make time and space to reflect and look forward. How do we live in the now at the same time as looking forward. How do we make sure in our rush to get to Christmas we don't miss the gifts Advent has to give us.
We might make a little desert time each day, time when we sit silently and ask God to show us the way he wants us to take and how to empty our hearts to receive the gift of the Christ child. Who might reflect on who we could invite to journey to the crib with us?
We might too do something practical and creative – if we have an advent calendar (and I have to confess that I have Thorntons one with a chocolate behind each window) as we open a window, we could take time to reflect on the picture whatever it is or the verse of Scripture behind it, mull it over and see where it takes our thoughts. Or we could go and look out of one of the windows of our house and pray for the people and the places around us. Praying peace into the homes and hearts of the people we live among. Or we could find a quiet little spot and open the window of our heart and offer to God all that we find there. Inviting Him to dwell in a new way in our lives, amidst all our muddle and clutter, all our longings and good intentions, all our pain and regret. Setting aside some time each day, even if it is as short an amount of time as it takes to open the window of an Advent calendar, may make our journey to Christmas, more poignant, and more powerful. Especially if perhaps we light a candle and allowed its tiny flame to remind us at this dark time of year that Christ is the Light of the World and that when he was born though it was the middle of the night, the sky was ablaze with light and glory. We could pray that light into the places in our world where the darkness of violence and hatred and poverty destroy, demoralise and diminish.
We could even make time together some days and share the views from our windows, share our thoughts, share our prayers- maybe even our chocolate although that might be a step too far!but it might teach us something new about God who is both the generous giver of all gifts and who longs to receive the most precious thing we have which is ourselves.
But why not dream dreams – if you could have exactly what you wanted behind each window what would it be. What are your most urgent prayers. What is our world in most urgent need of? It might be that the picture you dream is a little child laughing, walking, hand in hand with another child and you might pray for the raising up of more Mary and Josephs to love and nurture and protect and for an end to the tyranny of the Herods of this world, who crush the innocence of childhood. It might be that behind a window is a lamb frolicking in a field and you might pray that all creatures might be blessed with freedom and be safe from cruelty and abuse. You might see behind a window, a group of people kneading bread together and smiling and you might pray for an end to hunger and poverty. And as we dream let us imagine John the Baptist opening a window as well and lets look out onto his dream...
.John is the belligerent but blessed voice of Advent. His vocation was a great one. But he was only to prepare the Way- he was a signpost pointing to Jesus 2000 years ago and he is pointing to him today as he proclaims his message afresh to us and as we are called to proclaim it to others-
Repent Now, Believe Now Follow Now
For Jesus is the Lamb of God.
The Kingdom of God is upon us
Christmas is coming and the time is Now.
So individually and together, this Advent, lets listen,lets really listen to the voice of John the Baptist, lets allow him to shake us out of our complacency .That when Christmas does arrive, it may find us at the crib, not tired or stale, but excited and ready to welcome our Saviour, who is both Christmas Child and Easter King. And who one day will come again to redeem all creation. Amen.