Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sermon for Advent 2

Until the end of November I was living and working in Skopje, and in my spare time  leading Anglican worship. Now I have moved to Yerevan, and for a while at least will continue to prepare homilies and reflections for the congregation that continues to worship on a DIY basis, in Skopje. I will also post photos showing life in Yerevan and Armenia. From the beginning of January, the blog will move to Cambridge, where I will be studying for a term.

The Second Sunday of Advent

The inspiration for this homily comes from the Gospel reading: "the word of God came to John (son of Zechariah)". I included the last three words deliberately so that there is no confusion with respect to which John the text refers! It is most certainly John the Baptist, not the John whose cat bit him at Skopje airport last week! By the way, the hand is totally ok again now, and the cat still lives (and is loving life in Yerevan).

Very often in the Anglican tradition we have in church for the Advent season the Advent wreath with four candles-one for each of the Sundays.  The second candle (today's) is lit for the "prophets" (incidently, last Sunday was for the Patriarchs). So it is apt that today the gospel reading is about John the Baptist. I have always seen John the Baptist as the bridge between two worlds. The way he is depicted in the Bible is meant deliberately to be reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets – John is portayed as a wild man in the wilderness, a fiery preacher with a stern message to return to God's path or else! There was also a belief that had become popular amongst the Jews, that the prophet Elijah would reappear just before the Messiah appeared, and so John fitted the bill perfectly.

Indeed Jesus himself appears to be referring to John as the reincarnation of "Elijah" just after the Transfiguration (Where Moses and Elijah symbolically appeared with Jesus) in Mark 9:13 where Mark records "But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him". What the supporters of the new Christian movement needed (at the time of writing of the Gospels) more than anything was to be validated by the line of Jewish prophets. They were desperate to present Jesus not as an aberration coming out of nowhere but as part of the natural succession that was foretold throughout the Old Testament (as we call it now). In this way, the birth of Jesus was nothing less than the fulfilment of Judaism. So, having a bona fide prophet, such as John, confirm the status of Jesus was very important to them and in the gospels he does indeed do that.

That may not be the whole truth of course. We see what we want to see. John the Baptist can appear at times to have been as much a "rival" to Jesus as a prophet attesting to Jesus. Their rival ministries co-existed until John's untimely death and even then in prison as a nod towards that rivalry the gospels have John doubting that Jesus is the Messiah and sending his own disciples to Jesus to ask "Are you the one or are we to expect another?" Jesus answers by re-counting the signs of the kingdom that had been prophesied long ago and are now present.

What is indisputable is that John the Baptist baptised Jesus, so it is probable that Jesus was originally a disciple of John the Baptist. What is also indisputable is that while He was a disciple of John, Jesus had a deep and profound spiritual experience at his baptism.  This deep
and incredible experience led Jesus to understand clearly his relationship with, and his deep knowledge of, the presence of God within him. His immediate reaction was to go into the wilderness to contemplate what this meant for him personally. After 40 days and 40 nights, he understood clearly His mission, and responded to that mission by launching His own ministry. This was based on his experience of God as internal and integral and loving instead of a distant and judgemental "something". And the rest as we say is history, but we should never forget that the initial inspiration came from John, "the word God came to John". In just the same way, inspiration can come to us at any time, sometimes when we least expect it. So, during this busy time before Christmas let's be careful never to be too busy to respond to God's call whenever it might appear!

God bless you all, lots of love from Yerevan in this Advent season.