Hilary’s reflection for the third Sunday of Advent

“How Did We Feel About Him?”

A Reflection by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.        

How did we feel about him?  Well you don’t really need to ask do you?  We were prouder than words can say.  To think that our lad, John, be the one spoken of by the prophet, chosen to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, to announce the dawn of his kingdom.  What an honour!  What a privilege!  The very thought of it still takes my breath away!  To tell the truth we had to be careful sometimes not to get carried away, put him on a pedestal like, as though he was the one that God had promised; heaven knows he’s special enough to us.

Yet, if we ever fell into that trap, he soon put us right, reminding us in no uncertain terms, just what his role was to be in the great scheme of things.   It’s funny how he knows for we’ve never spelt it out to him.   You only had to see him as a boy to recognise that; the way he acted towards Jesus.  It was as though he had a special responsibility towards him, and I swear sometimes there was a hint of admiration in his eyes when they played together as lads.   As they grew up a special bond developed between them, but with an element of distance too, a sense on our John’s part anyway, of getting this close but no further, as though there’s a gulf in status between them, which he would never presume to cross.

Not everyone could do that, could they? – accepting a supporting role rather than a position centre-stage- but there’s never been a hint of resentment, nor any desire to thrust himself forward.  A voice in the wilderness, that’s how he describes himself, sent to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight his path in readiness for his kingdom – and he’s shown since exactly what that means.  Not that he’s the only one who longs for that day – we’ve all prayed for it for as long as I can remember.

The difference is that John doesn’t simply talk about, he’s helping to make it happen, his actions as well as words, his whole life in fact, a daily witness to the change Good requires of us – a foretaste, if you like, of that transformation he holds in store.

You think you are ready for his coming, ready to welcome the Messiah?  Well, maybe you are, but before you get too complacent just ask yourself this: what are you doing to bring his kingdom closer? For until you can answer that, take it from me, you’re nowhere near ready at all.

‘Come thou long expected Jesus’,’ O come, O come Emmanuel.’  We sing these hymns almost every year during Advent, but do we mean the words?  Are we really looking forward to the coming of Christ?  Do we truly believe one day he will return?  And if so, what it will all mean?  It is questions such as these that Advent puts to us, for above all this is a season of expectation, a season which reminds of the promise Jesus gave to come again in glory

We shall soon be celebrating once more the coming of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem – a coming his people had looked forward to for so long, yet which, when it finally happened they failed to recognise.  It is with that sobering truth in mind that we should ask ourselves, what do we expect, what should we expect?

But there was someone who would come before Jesus to prepare the way for the Lord, and who never doubted his coming – his cousin John, who would come to be known as the Baptist.

Now the time came for Mary’s cousin Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

When the child was a week old his parents, as is the Jewish custom, took the child to the Temple to be circumcised.  The priests were going to name him Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth said ‘No, he is to be called John’.  ‘But you have no relatives by that name’ they said.  His mother insisted that he must be called John, and his father, who at that time was still unable to speak wrote the name John on a tablet.  When he had done this he was able to speak again and began praising and thanking God, for the safe delivery of the son he never thought he would have.

Let us pray

Lord Jesus Christ,

You come as a servant to all, willing to take on human flesh, to give of yourself freely, even to humble yourself in death on the cross.

You showed us that to find out what life truly means we must be ready to offer it to others.  And in John the Baptist we see a model of the response such love deserves; a readiness to serve in turn, to point a way from self, and to seek your glory rather than our own.

Forgive us that we find it hard to follow, preferring the way of self service, our own interests put before those of anyone else.

Help us to recognise that it is in giving that we receive, and so may we commit our lives to you and bring glory to your name.  Amen

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