The message, not the messenger

Homily St John the Baptist Mildenhall, 9th December 2018 
Second Sunday of Advent: Baruch 5.1-9 & Luke 3.1-6

ProphetThe  readings we hear on Sundays follow a three year cycle. Each year, one of the three synoptic Gospels has a main part to play. This Church year, which started last week on Advent Sunday, our main focus will be on Luke’s Gospel. As some of you may know, Luke is maybe most famous for his story-telling: it is through his narrative and through his characters that we start to understand who Jesus is, and who God is.

This morning’s reading starts by a very precise explanation of the time and circumstances of the preaching of John the Baptist. Maybe even more important than the historical accuracy is the theological reasons for mentioning these particular rules. In a way, it already foreshadows the last week of Jesus’ life and ministry, and his encounters with Pilate and Herod before he will be crucified.

We don’t hear much about John the Baptist himself, apart from his birth. Again, this is significant, as Luke is trying to tell us that John’s importance does not lie in who he is, but in the message he proclaims. It is a message rooted in the message of the prophets of the people Israel. Not a comfortable message by any means, but a message full of hope: “all flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord”.

Just as is the case for John the Baptist, so also for the prophets: it is not about the messenger, but the important thing is the message they have to proclaim. Through the prophets we hear what God is like, and at the same time, more often than not, also we are challenged to rethink what we are like. They challenge our behaviour, our motivations, and where we find our identity.

I wonder in this day and age, if there is something we can learn from these prophets? Not just from their message, but also from who they are. I would like to suggest this morning is that the key thing we can learn from these prophets that we too are messengers, not the message.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has had this brilliant idea about something, only to find out that someone else copied it and claimed it to be their own. That moment in a meeting when you hear someone saying precisely that which you had told them the week before, as if they themselves had this marvellous insight. There are two ways to respond. The first one with rightful anger and disdain that someone has stolen your idea. The whole business of patent offices, of course, is founded on precisely this. The alternative to being angry is to be pleased: pleased that what you thought was best, is now being suggested and possibly taken forward.

This very simple example hopefully illustrates how hard it is to really accept that we are the messenger, not the message. But it is precisely what this time of Advent is about. It is a time to once more realise that, although we have a part to play, an essential part to plan, we are not the focus of the story. The focus is a new-born baby, the Son of God. The message is one of unconditional love, freely offered to each of us.

Each one of us is unique, and each one of us has an essential part to play in God’s story with us, but none of us is the central part. The more we realise this, the more we can truly fulfil who we are, instead of trying to be something or someone else. God has called us to be his own, and that is what makes us who we are, and who we are meant to be. Amen.

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