Close your eyes for a few moments and try to imagine being present two thousand years ago near Bethany at the River Jordan. There we have a man dressed in camel skins, with a leather belt around his waist, he ate wild locusts and honey and preached loudly, telling everyone they needed to change their ways; they needed to repent and prepare for the Saviour who was coming. I would imagine that with the hot desert sun beating down, a full immersion baptism in the waters of the river would have been refreshing to both body and soul as the waters washed away the desert dust as well as the sins of the many who thronged there.

The officials were suspicious of him, in an age and a region where most people believed and were waiting hopefully for the Messiah; they had hopes that this man may finally be the Messiah promised by God. But they were still suspicious, they questioned him, and he openly told them that he was not who they thought he might be. He pointed them towards their Holy Scriptures to Isaiah and it painted a picture of him the voice that cries in the wilderness. Telling people things, they probably knew to be true, but quite often did not want to hear.

Keep your eyes closed and take yourself back just twelve months, to secular Britain, a place where people try not to offend, a place full of traditions, which are being diluted in the pursuit of political correctness. A place where some Local Authorities use expressions like Happy Holidays instead of Happy Christmas. This was a place where many were all bumping along, preparing for another Christmas; preparing to be with our families, going out with friends and work colleagues, getting ready to say goodbye to 2019 and welcome in a new decade. For lots of people things were good, parties to go to, meals to be eaten and the new year would be a great one; a time for positive thoughts. No-one back then had heard of Covid or social distancing and not many knew about Public Health England. Lots of people were hoping for something which would take Brexit off the front pages of the newspapers and from the TV screens for a while, none of us knew what was about to happen.

In just 12 short months, life as we knew it has been turned upside down. 2020 has been a radical year. In some ways Covid has brought us closer; think back to the times when we were out on the street applauding our NHS heroes, Carers and other front-line workers with our neighbours. When people say stay safe or take care, they seem to really mean it now. More people are turning to prayer and asking for prayer for friends and family. Our Scriptures today are radical too. The first reading from Isaiah tells of the prophet being sent to bring good news to the poor, to heal hearts that are broken, freedom for captives and prisoners and to proclaim a year of favour from God. Isaiah is telling us of good times ahead, things will get better! St Paul continues this theme in our second reading by advising us to be happy at all times, pray constantly and to remember to thank God for everything; as that is what Jesus would expect us to do. Think before we do anything and never try to suppress the Spirit, hold on to what is good and avoid every sort of evil.

The Gospel from St John tells us how the ‘voice in the wilderness’ prepared a way for the Lord. He refuted any suggestion that he was a great prophet or the Messiah instead he pointed towards God; remembering who gave him life and the mission he was sent to deliver. Emphasising that he was not fit to undo his sandal strap, to his listeners this would have emphasised the difference between John the Baptist and the Messiah. In those days it would have been a servant or a slave who would remove the shoes of visitors when they came into a home. By mentioning the sandals John was saying he is beneath a servant, by mentioning the strap of the sandals he was saying look I am not worthy to be the servant of the servant who removes the sandals – the strap being deemed to be less than the sandal. (Jesus Himself emphasised this servant activity at the Last Supper, when he got down onto the floor to clean the feet of his Apostles).

In all things John the Baptist made himself smaller to emphasise the greatness of Jesus, he did not have to elevate Jesus; Jesus is already the Son of God. John the Baptist was aware of his mission – to prepare the way of the Lord. Do we ever ask ourselves what our mission is? We all have one! How do we serve our fellow man? How do we serve God? Think about those questions for a few moments.

Re-read today’s scriptures in light of these questions and consider –

  • How do I show that my soul rejoices in my God? (Isaiah 61:10)
  • How do I help the Lord to fill the starving with good things? (Luke 1:53)
  • What can I do, (today, this week. before Christmas) to avoid every form of evil? (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
  • What can I do, that I think is beneath me to serve God and my neighbour? (John 1:28)

I know that I have to improve in all of these areas, I know that the challenges I hear which are most difficult to accept are the challenges that I must accept. I have lost count of the number of times when I get exasperated at a question or a remark from my wife because I know that whatever the challenge or the question is, that I should already have been doing it or thinking about it. We don’t always like hearing a voice that goes against the flow, it is probably one of the reasons the Church comes under fire when it raises moral issues in the media or challenges what has become the norm. But the Church, like John the Baptist proclaims the truth; and it does not matter how many lies are told, the truth will always be true.

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Those who are homeless, that this winter someone will provide them a room at the inn.
  • Those who need support from Foodbanks, that they are not too proud to accept help.
  • Those recovering from operations, that they avoid infection and make a strong recovery.
  • Those looking for work at this time, that their efforts will be rewarded.
  • Those planning Christmas get togethers, that their plans do not put anyone else at risk.
  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers, and all other keyworkers, that their efforts will result in more people recovering from the virus.
  • Our priests and others who live alone; as we continue with the Covid restrictions, may we be sensitive to their needs.
  • Those with health issues who are afraid to go to the doctor for fear of wasting their time, may they seek the help they need .

Deacon Tony Darroch, 11th December 2020.