Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11 & John 1:6-8; 19-28
Through the pages of Scripture
Speak your message to us again, O God
Through the voice of your messengers
Speak your message to us again, O God
Through this moment of listening and receiving
Speak your message to us again, O God, and shape our lives by what we hear.
Some folks will tell you that we live in the Information Age. This is true. We do have access to hundreds of times more information and knowledge than our parents and grandparents did in their prime.
But I believe, we also live in the Age of Advertising, the Age of Marketing and the Age of Consumerism.
This is most evident at this time of year where concepts, ideologies and brand loyalties as well as consumables are on sale to the maximum.
The power of the message is often, not on its attributes and qualities but in the marketers’ ability to use a credible messenger to sell it. So being ambivalent towards something works it way into becoming a ‘want’. In turn, wants become ‘needs’ and finally needs become ‘must haves’.
The Messengers are often celebrities, or experts, or ‘beautiful people’ with street credibility who become so wrapped up in the product, they are selling that the differentiation between the messenger and the message is blurred.
It’s not just the quality of the messenger and the message that we should be concerned about, but the number of different messages that we receive on a daily basis. It is estimated that it is now over 3,000 per day.
While many come via personal interaction, increasingly they come via different electronic media. The problem is that so many of these messages don’t really matter. If we need (or desire) what is being sold, then the message and the messenger may be helpful, but in the big scheme of things, only a small proportion of these messages we receive, connect with our need at any particular moment, and of those only a very few make any significant differences to our lives beyond short term convenience and entertainment.
This is why we really need clear voices to engage us through the noise; and clear and important messages that can lead us to lives of grace, compassion, justice and contribution. We need messages of life that matter and that change us.
The gift of this third Sunday of Advent is exactly this. Last week we were introduced to the messenger – John the Baptist – who in his strange clothes and habits – called out to the people from the desert.
Today Advent shifts from the messenger to the Message and the Message is one of hope, joy, peace and love.
The third week of Advent is sometimes known as the week of joy and this is John’s message, in spite of its confrontational delivery.
There is the joy from the realisation that God is close at hand, even already present among God’s people as Third Isaiah is so keen to remind his people.
There is joy that in this coming for God promises restoration and blessing for God’s people. Isaiah uses the image of a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride in fine jewels.
Finally there is the joy that the reign of God which God brings is one of justice for the entire world.
Yes, the messenger is important – whether it be John the Baptist, Third Isaiah or you or me. But it is the message itself that is the chief ingredient to our cause.
Jesus was the only person in all human history that was both the messenger and the message itself.
We can only ever be merely the very human messenger of his message.
John the Baptist, as we see in the Gospel writing, is at great pains to emphasise this in describing himself.
John is very careful not to draw attention to himself. He says in verse 19, ‘I am not the Christ’, and goes on to say that he is not only not Elijah reborn, but not a prophet at all, rather he simply quotes Isaiah in chapter 40 of that book.
So much so, did John deprecate himself in this passage, that when he spoke of the Christ to come, he described himself as even less than a slave, for untying the master’s sandals was a slave’s job (verse 27).
If John had listened to today’s advertising and marketing experts, he would have made himself the representative of the ‘brand’ or even the ‘brand’ itself and ensured that people connected with him personally and thus identified his message with himself as the messenger.
John, however, had no such agenda. The important thing for him was the message and he proclaimed it passionately in word and action.
Prophets of the Old Testament and characters like John the Baptist are sometimes viewed as ‘hell-fire and damnation’ preachers – proclaimers of judgement and destruction.
The truth, though, when we examine what is actually proclaimed, is that they all spoke of peace, restoration, justice, mercy, compassion and God’s gracious presence and work on behalf of God’s people.
The judgement and destruction that they warned people about was always able to be averted by people simply remaining faithful to the principles that God had taught them.
We, too, need to allow ourselves to be simple voices that encourage people to prepare the way for the coming Advent one.
There is no indication that John had any particular, special gifts and both he and Jesus seemed to know this. He was just a voice. He spoke when it was right to do so, and then fell silent when his time was up. He happily retreated when Jesus came on the scene and moved out of God’s way.
This advent we are called to follow in the footsteps of John and Isaiah – for our message is the same. We are called to become voices of proclamation and of joy.
We need no special gifts or resources, and we need to release our obsession on results and bottoms on seats.
All we need to do is to allow the hope, the peace, the love and joy, which we have experienced through Christ’s coming to us, to be reflected – to be heard – in ourselves.
And then if we ‘let our lights shine’ outward in this way, we can trust Jesus to do his part.
It’s a calling that offers no glory or status for us. But it does offer the joy of being the messengers to the greatest message ever told – and surely that should bring heart flutters, tears of joy and the broadest grin that’s ever been seen.
For technical reasons, there is no podcast this week. Sorry