He’s Not the Messiah
Words for Third Sunday of Advent – 6 December 2020
A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23 He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord”’, (John 1.22-23)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
Dean Joe Hawes relates a story from his time as a Curate when a wise nun who was working alongside him told him some Good News and some Bad News.
‘Joe’ she said. ‘The Good News is that there is a Redeemer, the Bad News is that it isn’t you!’ Or, to paraphrase the famous words from the movie The Life of Brian we are not the messiah but instead we are just very naughty girls and boys.
In common with many clergy in the first flush of their vocation, I know (along with Dean Joe) the temptation to presume that we are ‘God’s gift to the Church’. It is a siren call that anyone who proclaims a distinctive message faces and explains why there are, in the history of humanity, scores of cases where messengers have been confused with the message and in so doing betray the very words they are eager to proclaim.
It’s a cleft stick to find oneself in;
Do we take the recognition (and glory) that comes with the message and so defile the selfsame message or do we leave our personalities out of it, turn the focus away from ourselves, and run the risk of being accused of not practicing that which we preach?
Both are counsels of despair. Learning how our patron John the Baptist copes with fame (or is it notoriety) may help us as we journey onward in our quest to prepare a ‘straight way’ for our Redeemer.
The Baptist aims to deflect those who want to turn him into a messiah by focussing on the message. ‘Who are you?’ The crowd desperate for a redeemer to liberate them from the yoke of the Roman oppressor want him to say ‘Yes’. John instead says simply I am a voice, a message pointing toward the One who is to come. In the same way Hildegard of Bingen in later centuries (also tempted by the lure of power) reverts to her call to be a voice, ‘a feather on the breath of God’.
So, if our call is to be a voice, to be carried about by God’s breath delivering the Good News what is the word we are to proclaim?
Not all of us are able to be vocal in our ability to account of the hope that is within us (cf 1 Peter 3v15) but, like it or not we all proclaim a message. If not by our words then by our deeds… or lack thereof.
This is another side to our task of remembering that ‘there is a Redeemer and it is not us’.
Whatever we say or don’t say
Whatever we do or don’t do
Whatever we believe or don’t believe
We proclaim a message.
This is true for everyone be they religious, agnostic, or atheist. Every word we speak, every act we perform, every decision we make is an expression of how we belief life should be conducted. We may not all be People of the Book but we are all ‘believers’ and proclaimers of those beliefs.
If we are to imitate John the Baptist what then should our belief, our voice, our deeds, our life itself proclaim? How about this list?
Greatness is not found amongst the praise of our fellows
No service we perform is too mean for us to carry out
Any light others may see in us is but a reflection of a greater Light
Giving away our life (hopefully not our head as well!) is the only way to save it.
And the end of all this is for us to melt away into the background of the story of God’s great love.
As John himself says later, He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3v30)
Too often society has fallen into the trap of looking at the messenger and then deciding how to receive the message.
For reasons such as this God does not send a forebear who is dressed in fine robes and follows in the footsteps of his father into the priesthood. (cf Matthew 11.7-8)
For reasons such as this God does not become incarnate in grandeur and pomp and ceremony, but in a corner of an animal shelter to be cared for by the frightened and persecuted Mary and Joseph.
God tried doing things in the grand manner.
The Tower of Babel
The gift of the Promised Land
And each time we took God’s gift and grace and turned them into instruments of privilege and exclusion.
God says ‘Enough!’
And chooses a prophet, with poor fashion sense and a weird diet, divested of the trappings of the messenger that the Message, to be delivered by an ‘illegitimate’ Nazarene, might speak more clearly.
It is not easy
to find ways of letting go of the praises of others
It is not easy
to step out of the limelight
It is not easy,
even though we profess it, to give God all the glory
It is not easy
to say no to our ego and allow God’s love to shine through our need to be needed and noticed.
But if we are to ever learn the glorious truth that ‘There is a Redeemer and its not us’ this is the only path we can proclaim or follow. Remembering always, because of the self-denying love of God in Christ on the Cross, every time we ‘lose’ we in fact ‘win’ and are drawn closer to the One who Loves us Best.
If reading these words made you curious as to how you can proclaim the Good News to a friend have a look at some of the links in my blog A Card Carrying Evangelical.
[This blog ‘He’s Not the Messiah’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]