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3rd Sunday of
Advent, Yr C, 16.12.2012
Canticle: Isa. 12.2-6:
Luke 3.7-18: (1117)
God for whom we watch and wait, you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son: give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice, and to suffer for the cause of right, with Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prophets bolster and clarify our understanding of Jesus
We are in Year C of the RCL, so today, when we think of John the Baptist
on this Third Sunday in Advent, our gospel continues to be drawn from Luke.
Luke has more to say about the Baptist than any other gospel.
John Wilkinson preached a fine sermon last Sunday.
But he preached it on today’s theme, John the Baptist.
So after making a few more observations on Luke’s portrayal of John, I
am going to touch on last Sunday’s theme, the Prophets.
Both Luke and Matthew present John as preaching with strong threshing
imagery in which people will be sorted out in a way akin to throwing the crop up
in the air with a winnowing fork so that the wind catches the chaff and blows it
away with the good wheat falling back to the ground to be gathered into the barn
while the chaff is burned up. In
other words, to use a more modern idiom, he is preaching hellfire and damnation,
and that’s what awaits you if you don’t repent!
This threatening imagery reminds me of men wearing sandwich boards on
front and back declaring ‘Repent, for the end is nigh’.
In fact, the way Luke writes his account, he transfers elements of
John’s threshing imagery to the day of Pentecost, with the wind of the Spirit,
and the tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples as marks not of judgement
but as signs of the in-breaking of the gift of the loving Spirit.
I trust that all of you have heard of the ‘good cop – bad cop’
routine. In case you haven’t,
it’s the device in cop shows where one partner of a pair of policemen gives a
very threatening approach to a suspect and then the other partner sweet-talks
the suspect. Both Luke and Matthew
see a similar type of contrast between John the Baptist and Jesus.
We see it in the statement on Jesus’ lips that John came playing
funerals and the Son of man, i.e., Jesus, came playing weddings and you refused
to join in either way, saying that John was mad and Jesus was a drunkard.
Historically speaking, it is likely that after his baptism at John’s
hands Jesus was initially a follower of John, but he then struck out on his own
with a very different approach. What
is clear, as indicated at the beginning of the 4th chapter of the
Gospel of John is that during Jesus’ ministry the group following Jesus was
making and baptizing more disciples than John’s group (4.1-2).
In Luke’s account as we have it this morning, John gives very
middle-of-the-road advice to the crowds, tax-collectors and soldiers.
One of Luke’s aims in the gospel and Acts is to avoid arousing any
justifiable suspicion on the part of the Roman authorities.
John’s hellfire preaching, almost verging on the apocalyptic, might
have aroused questions with the authorities.
The advice given by John according to Luke, especially that given to the
tax-collectors and the soldiers, would certainly have allayed any such qualms by
its obvious support for a quiet, settled atmosphere.
Now let us have a look at last Sunday’s theme, namely, the Prophets.
Biblically speaking, a prophet is not someone who foretells the future,
but rather someone who is believed to have seen the situation from God’s point
of view and who has set forth what the consequences are likely to be.
In short, the prophet is not so much a foreteller as a forth-teller, and
his or her forth-telling is anchored in a particular time, place and setting.
The words of the prophet may be of judgement, consolation, promise, etc.
, but they are meant to be of immediate application.
It may well be that they do not result in the stated outcome and
therefore hang loose, so to speak. But
this does not negate their initial purpose.
Now, when Jesus of Nazareth comes along those who follow him are
convinced that he is the one sent by God, the anointed one, the Messiah.
He shows forth the very character of God, so he is acclaimed as Son of
God, which is
But just occasionally the process may well have been reversed so that a
scriptural passage may have seemed so appropriate to the story being related
that it was used to generate a part of the story.
Let me tell you about one such aspect.
I learned about this in a book by Frank Kermode who was
Professor of English Literature at
On the whole we can be confident that the witness of the prophets and the
rest of the scriptures has been so effectively sought out that we shall be able
to sing with confidence the Christmas words that ‘the hopes and fears of all
the years are met in thee tonight’.