Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-end (page 620 in our pew Bibles)The piece of scripture that Jesus read from in the synagogue and proclaimed "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" -Luke 4:21
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (page 988 in our pew Bibles) Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. A template of the Christian demeanour towards life itself
John 1:6-8, 19-28 (page 886 in our pew Bibles) John prepares the way. He says he is not Elijah, but Jesus says differently!(Matthew 11:13-14)
Two men – cousins – and both are the fulfilment of prophesies in Isaiah that pre-eminent Prince of the prophets.
This piece from Isaiah we heard today is exactly the same extract that Jesus read in the Synagogue in Luke 4 and said.
“What you have just heard is being fulfilled before you”. Jesus affirmed that he was that person that Isaiah foretold.
And in our readings from John’s gospel we have Jesus’s cousin, slightly older than Jesus, saying that he too is the fulfilment of the prophesy in Isaiah 40 that says;
“I am the voice crying out in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord””
The Jews were expecting Elijah to return to prepare the way of the Lord because that is what Malachi said would happen in the last words of the Old Testament but John himself denied being Elijah. But Jesus saw deeper and truer and saw accurately that John was indeed fulfilling that role;
In Matthew 11:14-15 Jesus says “And if you are willing to accept it, John is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let them hear”.
John’s role was to lead people to Christ so notwithstanding acknowledging his pivotal role that we celebrate today we do concentrate on Christ and the difference he makes to our lives, just as John would have wanted.
So we turn to Paul’s first letter he ever wrote – the earliest Christian writing in the New Testament pre-dating all the gospels.
Christians are called to a life of worship. But Rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving are not activities designated as "Sunday" activities. The adverbs are “always”, “without ceasing” and “in all circumstances”
We are to orientate our whole lives towards God. We are not to divide our lives into God-related and non God-related spheres.
God is to be glorified (given his due worth) when we are writing cheques, voting in elections, relating to husband, wife and children, making business decisions – as well as public and private worship.
We are also called to a life of discernment of God’s will. The Spirit is the divine activity in life and while the Spirit’s activity is mysterious and often ambiguous we are commanded not to quench the Spirit.
Prophets need to be tested to see if they reveal God’s will.
This extract from Thessalonians is a call to a life orientated towards God.
And here we can get a strong lead from John the Baptist himself.
Here was a man devoted to the way of God and wanted nothing more than to prepare the way for Jesus. Christians in our culture need to do that afresh ourselves - prepare the ground for Jesus.
John believed in Jesus even though he hadn’t experienced Jesus’ ministry. He had a solid faith that we should seek to emulate.
John was fearless and recognised the supreme importance of repentance – the Metanoia that Bishop Mark talked about last Sunday – the radical conversion of one’s life.
John also shows us how to stand firm in our faith no matter what the circumstances. John stood firm against the king and the religious establishment, standing up for what he believed was right. He had guts and the church needs guts now more than ever.
As Christians we will all have our faith put to the test, and we can and probably will falter, but when we do, we can try and emulate John, and cling to Christ and stand firm to the end.