2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,[a]
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[b]
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared[c] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with[d] water; but he will baptize you with[e] the Holy Spirit.”
A few years ago I was doing my Christmas shopping in Reading. There were various street entertainers on Broad Street with the usual crowds of people around each one, desperately looking to escape just before the hat goes round for money. And further down towards M&S the crowd all seemed to keep to one side of the street, giving something a very wide berth.
Not something. Somebody. The crowds were deliberately avoiding a man and his young son as they stood offering bibles to passers by. Despite the apparent death-stares they were getting from people, they carried on cheerfully. I went up to the man and got talking. He wasn’t oblivious to how people responded to him. He knew he was seen as eccentric. He knew people didn’t want to know. But, for him, it would take just one or two conversations with people, helping them open up to faith, to make it worthwhile. I looked at his son and instead of embarrassment you could see that his son was very proud of his dad.
Who are God’s messengers?
You see, John the Baptist was a bit of an unlikely messenger. Would you take him seriously? He appears in the wilderness. He was clothed in camel’s hair, had a leather girdle around his waist and ate locusts and honey. On the face of it he wouldn’t seem a credible messenger. And yet he had come from a family with status. His father, Zechariah, was a highly respected priest. And here was John living in the wilderness, usually associated with outcasts, and drawing people from the surrounding area to hear of his prophecy.
When you go forward for selection for training to the priesthood you are asked to compile a dossier of all those who have influenced you in your faith. This can be a lengthy document covering many times in your life. It is a very personal story of the individual messengers who have encouraged you on your way. I’m going to share just one of mine.
About ten years ago I was having difficulty in my faith. Actually that’s not wholly true. I actively rebelled against it. After all my career was going well, I was settled into a nice life and, with all that, who needs God? And then I started working closely with a new colleague, Ajaz. Ajaz was a practicing Muslim heavily involved in his mosque and community. We rarely spoke about his faith. We didn’t need to. He lived his faith like nobody I had ever seen before. Every decision in the workplace, in his homelife, everything was built on God and service.
He was unassuming and yet the influence he had over me and my faith is significant. I realised how much I missed my relationship with God, that having a good job and nice flat just isn’t enough and we are called to be true disciples. And of course Christians and Muslims haven’t always had the best of relationships so the idea that my Christian faith would grow because of a Muslim influence may seem odd. Yet we know it’s not odd. We know that God sends us messengers all the time. And those messengers may not be the most obvious, they may be the ones we might least expect.
My friend had no idea of the influence he had over me. He does now, I’ve told on him several occasions! But often we aren’t aware of our impact on others.
Perhaps there have been times when you have been the messenger without necessarily realising it. Maybe something you said or did, or even the way you did it, has given deeper meaning to somebody. As Christians we have become messengers. People will judge our faith by our actions and, hopefully, they’ll see something of the Spirit in the way we live our lives. John was called by God to prepare others in anticipation of Jesus. We, likewise, are called equally to be those messengers.
The Call to Prayer from “The Armed Man” by Karl Jenkins. The Armed Man is also known as a Mass for Peace. When John was baptising people and telling them about the one who was to come, what do you think they were hoping for? We know Jesus was born into a turbulent world, a world divided – Romans, Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles – what hope was Jesus to bring?
We ask ourselves that same question. As we listen to the messenger, what are we hoping for?
We have a few verses from Psalm 151. This psalm doesn’t appear in our prayer books because it’s not part of the official canon of the church. However the text is attributed to David and two parts of it have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It tells the story of David meeting Goliath.
I was small among my brothers,
and the youngest in my father’s house;
I tended my father’s sheep.
My hands made a harp;
my fingers fashioned a lyre.
And who will tell my Lord?
The Lord Himself; it is He who hears.
It was He who sent His messenger
and took me from my father’s sheep,
and anointed me with His anointing oil.