Isaiah 35: 1-10 (page 595 in our pew Bibles) The dominant theme of the entire Bible is "exile and return" which can be applied to both Israel and the human race as a whole. Here Isaiah talks about the return of the redeemed and the signs that will accompany the event and fulfilled by Jesus.
James 5: 7-10 (page 1013 in our pew Bibles) A call to patience when waiting for the day of the Lord from Jesus' brother James. He implores us not to grumble against each other while we wait.
Matthew 11: 2-11 (page 816 in our pew Bibles) John the Baptist wonders if Jesus really is the Messiah and Jesus replies that he should look at Jesus' works in fulfilling the prophesies of Isaiah.
If it is true that as it says in Proverbs 29:18 that “without a vision the people perish or are discouraged” then it is essential that the prophets make God and his certain action the centre of their message.
And here we have a wonderful vision of the salvation of humanity and the everlasting joy that is promised to God’s people.
The imagery is that of a return from exile. The two greatest influences on the Jewish psyche was the captivity in Egypt and the return with God’s help under the guidance of Moses, imprinted into the Jewish mind by the celebration of the Passover every year and the exile in Babylon and the return engineered by God through King Cyrus.
These two exiles mirror the primal exile of the entire human race from the Garden of Eden and our return engineered through The Son of God himself, Jesus Christ.
We are exiled from God in a wilderness of suffering, death and futility, by our own volition until we were rescued by the action of God through Jesus on the cross. What he asks for in return, to access this salvation, this eternal joy, is our faith. The way we exercise our faith is through the amendment of our life – by turning against evil and consciously returning to God’s fold. This involves the surrendering of our will to God’s will.
We also heard from James, Jesus’ brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
He has advice for us. As we are waiting for this glorious future, be patient. And in our patient waiting, confirm our faith. Don’t grumble against each other, and show complete honesty and integrity. We don’t need to swear oaths as Christians because our word is our bond. Our words and actions should be as one. Our yes is yes and our no is no, because we don’t deceive each other.
And it is always a comfort to know that others have gone through what you have gone through so James reminds us that the prophets needed great patience and endurance to achieve their goals.
One of these, the last of the prophets was John the Baptist and in Matthew’s gospel today we see John in prison at a moment of weakness, who is wondering if Jesus really is the long awaited Messiah. Jesus doesn’t answer with a direct yes or know but says, “Look at the prophesies written about the Messiah.” The deaf are given their hearing, the blind their sight, the lepers walk, the dead raised”. What more do you want?
This day we are celebrating John the Baptist’s role in our salvation history and great pains are taken to present him as a traditional Old Testament prophet, wild and woolly, living a frugal existence in the wilderness (which itself is a part of prophesies).
He acts as a kind of Bridge between the Old and New. Jesus is a new thing in their lives but John the Baptist is that link between themselves and the Old Testament Prophets, and is a kind of guarantor that while Jesus is new and challenging, he is the one foretold by the Prophets.
But we end with one startling statement made by Jesus. No-one is greater than John, yet even the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. Now whatever can Jesus be saying here? Any of us that confesses Jesus as our Lord and saviour is much greater than John the Baptist.
Well John was certainly a great prophet who pointed people to Jesus and he knew a lot about God’s Justice and preached as such BUT he had not and could not see the cross. He would not be able to appreciate the depth of God’s Love, his forgiveness and Grace. He had not seen the full revelation of God’s love. We have and we are blessed indeed. That is why we are, through no merit of our own greater than John the Baptist.
We are witnesses to the full revelation of God’s love for each one of us. Christianity is a corporate faith but it is also intensely personal.
Essentially it is personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We have seen God’s glory and experienced his limitless love and forgiveness. That is our greatest possession, and one we should be proud the share and give away as a precious gift this Christmas.