Did you see the moon on Friday?
I have to confess that I missed it – Friday is my day off and I was frantically busy trying to cram several week’s worth of Christmas shopping, wrapping and card writing into just one day, so wandering out to gaze at the moon just didn’t make it onto my priority list. It’s a shame, though, because on Friday night the moon was closer to us and brighter by far than it normally is. In areas without too much light polution, the effect was apparently quite stunning – and the amazing thing about the moon, of course, is that of itself it has no light at all.
The moon shines only with the reflected light of the sun.
If that light were extinguished, the moon itself would shine no more.
And here John the Baptist stands as the moon, to the sun that is Jesus.
He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness to that light….
Like Friday’s moon, he shone more brightly that those who had gone before him, but he was not that light.
He bore witness because he too shone with reflected glory….and he was in no doubt that his role in the gospel was not centre stage. In the account we have just heard, John is not called "the Baptist". The emphasis is on his witness to Christ more than his work of bringing the people to repentence.
His calling was to be a sign, pointing the way to Jesus.
We too share his calling to reflect the light of Christ and to so shine that others can see the way…
There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
Not much of an introduction, but then John was not one who cared about such things. He stepped out of his priestly heritage, shrugged off the wonders that surrounded his own birth.
You could imagine him saying, again and again “It’s not about me”.
John was quite happy with a life of wandering in the wilderness, rough, unfashionable clothes, basic food, and an unshakeable, uncompromising message.
Uncompromising, but compelling.
So compelling that people assumed that he must be the Messiah, and we completely nonplussed when John said,
For me, this gospel cannot be heard without Gibbons’ anthem “This is the record of John” playing in my mind…and the music, which had been swirling in polyphonic waves while the questioning was in progress comes to rest as John’s voice is heard
“And he answered – NO”
That silences the questioners for a moment, but then they are off again.
“Well, if it’s not you, where IS the Messiah? He must be close, if prophets like you are abroad.”
"He is here. He is among you," says John.
And that was almost as startling as anything that had gone before. Imagine, you have been waiting and watching for the Messiah all your life long, your people have looked for him for centuries, and now you are told that he’s hear among you already.Surely not…
The Messiah arriving unrecognised? Unthinkable…
But John is insistent, absolutely confident in that he has heard God aright, and that he knows his own place in God’s
Thus he can say, with no false modesty,
"I am the voice crying in the wilderness…Just as Isaiah told you, the day of the Lord is coming – prepare yourselves for it".
John´s message is compelling,
He believes it himself and is wholly committed to his task, in the tradition of the great Old Testament prophets.
His claim to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make straight the way for the Lord,' immediately aligns him with Isaiah as his authority. This was absolutely real to John, and the authority that he received from God shone in his compelling words.
And of course, John´s message is so compelling because, above all, he
points away from himself towards Jesus.
He is the moon, not the sun, remember..
"Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal."
And this is the mark of all those who aspire to preach the true Gospel.
We must remember always that the Gospel is all about Jesus, the Jesus who took as his mission statement, when he preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, these very words of Isaiah.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel..”
John points to Jesus, and Jesus comes, not with a teaching which would imprison us with fear, not with words which would tie us up in knots, but with tidings of great joy.
As the way is made straight, as our lives are put right, so we can know that the good news of hope and freedom is for us as well. This is the promise we hear in Isaiah.
"He has sent me to bring the good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord´s favour." "to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning."
Isn’t that fabulous? This, surely, is the central core of our gospel, the heart of the church's ministry. And yet so many people are imprisoned by religion rather than freed by it. They spend time determining who is in and who is out, where the most pure doctrine may be found, excluding some on account of gender or sexual orientation, others because of youth or age, others because of the way they prefer to worship
That’s not the gospel.
The gospel is not about legalism, but about liberation. It is not about hierarchy but about equality and justice. It is not about fear but about freedom, security and hope
It is without doubt GOOD news – the best possible news, indeed!
So, today let us remember that John now stands as a model for us.
We share his task, to witness to Christ in our lives, our words, our actions…To speak good news and to be good news as well.To point to Christ, knowing that any light we may bear is reflected from him…We are not that light but we are sent to bear witness to the light...
There was a man/ woman sent from God, whose name was ....
May God strengthen us as we witness to the Good News each day.