It is the season of Advent – the season of waiting, of preparation, of anticipation
As well as all our domestic preparations – cooking, present buying, decorating our houses, there is the preparation to receive Jesus among us once again.
He is coming – but will we be ready?
In the reading from John’s gospel (John 1: 6-8 and 19-28), John tells us that John the Baptist has come to bear witness to the light that was coming into the world.
But before Jesus arrived on the scene, John was preparing people by baptizing them in the River Jordan and urging them to repent from their sins so they would be ready to meet their real saviour.
Word of John’s activities had obviously got around so the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem sent some of their number out to the River Jordan to see what was going on
Could John be the Messiah? It was possible – the Jews had been awaiting their Messiah and there was a feeling abroad that this was about to happen.
This was all very exciting or very worrying, depending on your point of view.
So when they asked John who he was, he forestalled them by saying that he was not the Messiah.
Perhaps they were relieved to hear that – to them the real Messiah was going to be a leader who would save them from the Romans – not some homeless person living rough by the river.
OK, so if he was not the Messiah, then who was he?
The obvious answer was Elijah.
This may not seem particularly obvious to us but any Jew would have known that before the Messiah came, Elijah would return.
That would be a sign that the Day of the Lord was near, the Day of the Lord being a time when God would intervene to save the world.
But John said he was not Elijah.
Was he, then ‘the Prophet’, a unnamed individual who was expected to appear and announce the arrival of the Messiah.
But John said he was not the Prophet.
You can see a theme developing here – John is very reluctant to talk about himself and he never really answers their question.
Who he is is not important – what matters is the person whose way John has come to prepare, the one who will come after him.
John tells the messengers from the Jewish authorities not only that someone is coming but that he is very near – in fact he is already among them.
This all added to the feeling of excitement in the air – something was happening, but no one was quite sure what.
And John says that someone in the crowd is the person they are all waiting for – ‘among you stands the one you do not know’.
You can imagine the people all looking round and nudging each other – ‘is it him? Or him? I haven’t seen that person before’.
So who is this person who is coming? What is he going to do?
Notice that John does not say that Jesus is the Messiah.
He purposefully refrains from giving him a title or even a name.
This could be because John knew the sort of Messiah that the Jews were expecting and he had an idea that Jesus was not going to live up to those expectations.
For whatever reason, it is all left deliberately mysterious.
All John will say is that the one who is coming is so much greater than John that John is not worthy to untie his sandals – a menial task.
So someone really important is coming – but we’re not told who.
We do, however, get a clue about what he is coming to do in our first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 61: 1 – 3).
Here the prophet says that God has filled him with his Spirit and chosen him to announce good news to the poor, the broken hearted and those in prison.
The Lord is coming to save his people, to give comfort to them, to give them a song of praise instead of sorrow.
Now it’s highly unlikely that Isaiah was thinking about Jesus when he spoke those words.
Prophets were not people who foretold the future – they gave people God’s word for the present.
So what is the connection between this passage and Jesus?
The answer is that rather than Isaiah looking forward to Jesus, Jesus is using this passage to identify himself as the prophet.
This is what Jesus had come for – to bring good news – the good news of God’s kingdom.
In God’s kingdom there will be no poverty or oppression, mourning and crying will be turned to joy and people will serve God in the way he wants then to.
By his coming to earth, Jesus has brought the kingdom of God to the world.
But we only have to look around us to see that God’s rule is by no means universal.
We have a long way to go before the values of the kingdom are accepted everywhere.
And this is where we come in.
God’s way of working is not to zap in and sort out the world on his own.
He needs us to help in that task.
Jesus may have brought in the kingdom of God but we are the ones who will have to help bring it about.
We are being called to bring peace and justice to the world, to make the world a better place, by doing what we can to help those around us, whether it’s a neighbour who needs help or giving money to charity.
So in the build up to Christmas with all the preparations, it’s easy to forget that Jesus was coming into the world to bring in God’s kingdom.
And that involves us.
Jesus will be coming soon – but will we be ready to receive him?
Revd Roz Harrison