For, indeed, the hand of the Lord is with him. Luke 1:66
When I was a young man, I took a train journey with some friends, through Europe to Athens. In a suburb of Athens there is an orthodox monastery called Daphni. The church is laid out like most orthodox churches, in the shape of the cross. Over the top of the cross is a dome and within the dome is a marvellous mosaic. In the mosaic, Christ is depicted as Lord of the Universe, looking down over all. Wherever you are situated within the church His eyes seem to follow you. It's rather unsettling!
You may recall the 1st World War poster 'Your country needs you'. It was brought to mind a few years ago when we remembered the centenary of the start of the Great War. It was painted in such a way that from whatever angle you looked at it the finger was pointing at you.
There's no escaping the finger of Lord Kitchener – and no escaping the eye of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Ruler of all.
I have the feeling that meeting John the Baptist would have been rather like seeing that poster or the mosaic – no escaping his pointing finger, no escaping his penetrating and all seeing gaze.
And I suspect it would not have been easy to escape his challenging and powerful preaching – a word from God as appropriate and necessary today as it was 2000 years or so ago.
John the Baptist
There are 3 elements in John’s word:
Wake up! It's not hard to be physically awake but mentally and spiritually asleep. Just letting the world go by, not being aware of what is going on around you and within you. Not alert to the signs of the times. Accepting what happens as “just one of those things”. Making no effort to play a part in putting right what is wrong on the world around you. “Get a life” in today’s jargon.
Believe! Most people claim to believe in God (going from recent census returns), but what does this really mean? Does such belief make a significant difference to the focus of their lives or relationships?
Belief in this context includes trust (Do you believe and trust - from our Baptismal service). John is calling people to renew and deepen our sense of trust in God. Trust that God is God and we are God’s people. Trust that God loves and forgives and accepts. And trust that God doesn’t discriminate or have favourites.
Repent! Repentance is about turning away from sin, in sorrow for what I have done wrong, and turning towards God. An awful lot of people, including Christians, seem to believe that it is necessary to repent in order to know the forgiveness that comes from God. This is to put the cart before the horse.
I repent. NOT in order to be forgiven: no amount of anything I can do can secure anything for me from God. I repent because I have been forgiven. Because I know and experience God’s forgiveness, therefore I express my sorrow to God and turn away from sin and turn towards God.
A call for everyone
Wake up – Believe – Repent. These are the ingredients of John the Baptist’s prophetic preaching. Woe betide the church today if they aren’t also the ingredients of our preaching.
And, like his, may our preaching of God’s word, in whatever form or style that may take place - for preaching is a great deal more than somebody getting up in a pulpit and going on for what sometimes seems like hours – in turn bear much fruit.
Indeed, the hand of the Lord was with John. I certainly don’t have such an important mission as John did, and possibly you don’t have either. But whatever we are being called to do by God, and God has a call for everyone, and we know that the hand of the Lord is with us, just as it was with John. So let’s thank God for his powerful presence in our lives, and let’s ask him to strengthen our faith, our hope and our love.