The Second Sunday of Advent
I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you were trying to model yourself on a celebrity, based purely on their physical features, I wonder who the top candidates might be?
What feature would you like and from whom? Ladies? Gents?
Well, for the ladies it might be the classic image of Audrey Hepburn. People online say they covet her slim figure and graceful movement.
Another desirable feature for some, are the lips, of Angelina Jolie.
For others, the thing that they want most, is the hair of the Duchess of Cambridge.
And what about the gents?
Some talk of wanting chiselled features like the first James Bond, Sean Connery. Others want muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger and still others want designer stubble like George Clooney.
I’m sure we all guilty in wanting the features of celebs for ourselves. And in case you were wondering, for me, it’d be the voice of Jeremy Irons!
We have in the gospel this morning, a biblical celeb: John the Baptist. John’s red carpet, his catwalk, was the banks of the river Jordan. And yet, by our modern standards, I can’t think of many people who would covet his physical features or envy him, and the scriptures tell us why. He was, no doubt, to all who encountered him, what we might call, a bit of an eccentric. Clothed not in the Dolce & Gabana of his day, nor in the vestments of a priest, which he was, like his father Zechariah, nor was John laden with fine jewellery, he wears instead ‘a shirt of camel hair’ with a ‘leather belt around his waist’.
As if his clothing wasn’t enough, his diet perhaps attracts us to him even less. Rustic would be a generous overstatement, we are told, that far from being celebrity gourmet, Gordon Ramsey style, it was ‘locusts and wild honey’. Strange doesn’t cut it, and yet, as we hear in the gospel, despite all of this, the crowds had flocked to hear him, people from ‘Judea and all the people of Jerusalem’ were heading to him. The reason why is simple; because, unlike most celebrities, he didn’t revel in their admiration, he didn’t pose for their delight, he didn’t want their praise, he wanted only to proclaim. He wanted them to hear the message.
And John the Baptist’s message is simple: that we should turn to God. We should prepare our hearts for his coming, that we should get ready for his arrival. His appearance is drawing closer and we must not procrastinate. Through his words John is calling his hearers to ‘immediate action’ to make an immediate response. John is calling them exhorting them, pleading with them to open their hearts to the ‘Holy Spirit’ – God’s presence, his grace, his mercy in their lives.
We, like them, have heard that message. We like them, I hope have responded – we have and are now – preparing our hearts for his arrival – yes at Christmas – but also and perhaps more importantly, when he shall come as Saint Peter reminds at the end of time. When in the words of Isaiah, ‘the Lord comes with might’, when ‘the heavens shall pass away with a loud noise, the elements will be dissolved with fire and everything… is disclosed’. We are reminded to live lives of the Holy Spirit which, we have already received: lives marked by holiness and godliness, lives of peace, lives without spot or blemish… That is what we are called to live – and that is what I hope we are indeed moving towards. But it’s hard to maintain – Advent and indeed the whole Christian life is about maintaining that holiness about living that godliness each day. And that means doing something that is so counter our celebrity culture, it means denying ourselves.
This is so counter cultural to the message today which says, revel in yourself, when put your wants your desires, your needs first, when we are told that you must strive to be images of Audrey Hepburn, Angelina Jolie or George Clooney. We are actually called to be like John the Baptist: pointing away from ourselves, and pointing to Jesus. If you could have any feature of a celebrity, forget the lips, forget the hair, forget the stubble, I would want you to have the finger of John the Baptist. Yes it’s probably dirty, yes it’s probably rough, yes it’s probably got a long nail at the end of it, but despite all of those off putting things, it points to the one who is life in all its fullness, it points to the one who, as we heard in the prophet Isaiah ‘who brings comfort’ the one who is a shepherd who feeds his flock, tenderly gathering them in his arms.
If we all had the fingers of John the Baptist, how wonderful that would be. That is our calling; fulfilling that calling, pointing away from ourselves and focussing our lives on him, that is how we maintain holiness, that is how we increase godliness, that is how we experience peace, by realising that it comes not from what we have or want, or desire, but rather those things come from the Saviour, the Lord the giver of life. The Psalm reminds us today ‘his salvation is very near to those who fear him’. If we pledge today to be like John the Baptist, or should I say his finger, we will experience that salvation, if we proclaim continually in our lives ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ our own lives or own egos, desires and wants will decrease – in John’s gospel, John the Baptist is recorded as saying ‘he must increase, I must decrease’. Today then, may we pledge to live that celebrity life – not of the Duchess of Cambridge, not of 007 Sean Connery – but of the Baptist and remember – as is printed on our Mass sheets, and is found on our banners and all our literature, we are ‘missionary disciples: pointing people to Jesus’. What are you called to be: ‘missionary disciples: pointing people to Jesus’.
You are to be: ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’.