Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
Philippians 4:4-7 & John 1:19-28
John answered them, I baptize with water; there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is to come after me - the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten.
My friends, in five short days we will celebrate the festival of Christmas. I would suggest to you that if you were really honest, in your heart of hearts, some of you might be feeling on this twentieth day of December, "I really wish it was all over." I think that happens to all of us at one time or another as we get ready for this feast. We look forward to it and then as we approach it we say, "There is so much to do and there is so much work. I wish it was just over and we were beyond it.
It's a natural feeling. Yet the Church wants us to take this time - these four weeks of Advent - to prepare for the coming of our Lord and Messiah, acknowledging the fact that we need a Redeemer, a Saviour, because individually and collectively, we are sinners. We need His saving grace.
Sometimes when we are so bogged down by the extra things we must do to get ready for the celebration, they can take away from the preparation that the Church would have us do during these days. That would be unfortunate. The Church in her wisdom has placed before us these past two weeks the austere figure of John the Baptist to prepare us for this feast within our selves. Within our souls is where the Lord is to dwell; in us by grace that He wants to be born. Because of this, you and I must listen to what John the Baptist is saying and resolve, "This is what I must do."
Last week we heard John sending His disciples to Jesus to ask the question, "Are you He-who-is-to-come or are we to look for another?" Jesus responded by quoting the prophets, showing them that He was indeed the fulfillment of the prophets. He is the Messiah. The people who came to Jesus last week from John were friendly, benign. Today we see some very different people coming to John. These people were not friendly; they certainly were not benign. They represented the Establishment in Jerusalem and they wanted to know what this rather odd person was doing down here at the River Jordan, baptizing all of these people and preaching without their say-so. "Who do you think you are, John? The Messiah? Do you think you are Elijah, come back to life again? (Elijah was supposed to come before the Messiah came.) Who are you? Are you that prophet that Moses spoke about in the book of Deuteronomy? Just who are you?"
John had a very clear idea of who he was. He answered very forthrightly to each of the questions, "No, I am not." "Then who are you?" "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" This was his role. He was to prepare for the Messiah. He was, if you will, the last of the Old Testament prophets, pointing the way to the Lamb of God, who was dwelling in their midst.
The key to today's Gospel is that verse that I read to you at the beginning of my words this morning, "There is one among you whom you do not recognize." Notice that this is present tense. There is one among you - not will be or was - but there is one among you now whom you don't recognize. He is the Messiah. He is the Lord. This is the reason you and I celebrate the season of Advent; aware of the presence of the Lord, the Messiah, in our midst now.
We understand that the Messiah did come historically. He was born. He grew up. He suffered and died, rose again, and is seated at the right hand of the Father in His glorious humanity.
But He dwells with us now as well. As I have said many times, it is this dwelling with us now of which we are to become more and more aware. How does He dwell with us now?
First of all, He dwells with us in His Word, in Sacred Scripture. This Bible is the inspired Word of God. He dwells with us in that Word. What Jesus has to say to us on a day-by-day basis can be found in the Word of God, in the Scriptures.
Secondly, He is with us in the seven sacraments; seven gestures of His love, if you will. Most especially He is with us in the Holy Eucharist that we receive so frequently. His very flesh and blood are our food and drink.
Thirdly, He is with us in His Body, the Church. He is the Head and we are the members of His Body. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. He does indeed dwell with us now.
The words of John are just as true for us today: "There is one among you" now. It is the Christ. Recognize Him. The people of the Establishment who came down from Jerusalem to investigate this rather strange individual at the River Jordan did not -would not - recognize the Messiah because they were blinded by their own notion of how God was supposed to be, how God was supposed to act. They had, in a sense, made God in their image and likeness. They reversed everything. Hence they were blinded when He came. They couldn't see Him.
Could that happen to us as well? I do think it can. You and I can also be blinded by all of the things that are unnecessary; all of the things that are sinful; all of the things that are not of God. They can obliterate - or at the very least - dull our vision of the presence of the Lord and Messiah in our midst now. The Church is saying, "Listen to John. John came preaching a baptism of repentance. Change your life. Be converted to the Lord and then you will see more clearly His presence in your midst now." That is what we are to do; why we have the season of Advent: to make us ready for the celebration of the festivals upcoming: Christmas and Epiphany, the birth and manifestation of the Lord in our midst. How can we see Him unless we are ready for it? That is the message Church wants us to hear.
This morning, we sang that beautiful ancient hymn, 0 Come, 0 Come, Emmanuel. Emmanuel: God-with-us! When we sing, we remember what those words truly mean. They are a plaintiff cry. We need Emmanuel. We need God-with-us. And John the Baptist is here to tell us, "He is in our midst." Will we recognize Him?
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint of Lindisfarne,
Bendigo ( moving to Launceston in February 2016 )