Tag Archives: advent

Advent 3 – John the Baptist

Matthew 11:2-11

What is the source of John’s question?

  • Was it asked on his own behalf, or on behalf  of others?
  • Was it a question of impatience – when was Jesus going to start judging, or was it one of misunderstanding the role of Messiah.
  • Did John know Jesus was the Messiah before he was imprisoned?  Or is it dawning on him?  This requires that we assume that the author of this pericope did not know Matthew 3:14ff.

The answers Jesus give are oblique.  One approach is to look at the political situation – If Jesus had said “yes” then Herod would have heard this on the rumour mill, and it would have been a direct challenge.  By quoting scripture Jesus can claim Messiahship without upsetting Herod.  

However, in the answers all the evidence of what Jesus is doing involves compassion and healing rather than judgement and condemnation.  John preached divine holiness with divine judgement and destruction – see last weeks winnowing fork and axe – Jesus preaches divine holiness and love.  Perhaps this is why John is asking – Jesus doesn’t match with his expectation.

Jesus questions about John are in fact a questioning of Herod – again however, without providing Herod with enough evidence to hang him.

a reed shaken by the wind can mean two things

  • a proverb for the commonest sights
  • a weak waverer

Herod’s coins had a symbol of a reed on them, and Herod himself was seen as a waverer.  John was neither of these.  People do not go out into the desert to see either.

soft/luxurious robes were the sign of a courtier – a flatterer of Kings – which was far from John.

Prophets have a message from God and the courage to deliver it.  John was certainly this.

Elijah was expected to return before the Messiah and Jesus gives him this role.

Why was John less that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven?  One interpretation is that “the least in the Kingdom of Heaven means Jesus.  But if all are considered members of the Kingdom of Heaven then John had not seen the crucifixion, the demonstration of the love of God.  As above John has been preaching destruction – hardly Good News – but Jesus preached and then lived out God’s love and all in the Kingdom of Heaven know this.

An Advent Reflection

“…and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the Child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, the were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the Child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:9b-11

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of folk today don’t know what to ‘do’ with Advent. It seems to have become subsumed into ‘commercial Christmas’, the time of frenetic activity that we have allowed Christmas to become. ‘Advent’ only gets mentioned with ‘Calendar’, and most of those are filled with chocolates that bear no connection to what the Season is really about. In the not too distant past, Advent was observed as a penitential season, rather like a mini-Lent, when we call to mind our own mortality, and reflect on how we are through God’s word in the Bible. They can be challenging and uncomfortable words. However, there is a great undercurrent of longing and hope, pointing to the great day when God, through Jesus Christ, will come again and draw all things into perfection.

The verses from Matthew’s Gospel are often seen as justification for giving Christmas gifts to one another, one that our consumer culture has fully hooked onto, and hijacked Advent in the process. But…. take a look at those verses again, and notice that the Wise Men didn’t give gifts to one another. They brought gifts for the child Jesus, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They gave the very best and costly gifts that they could. They were extravagant. Three gifts that symbolise Royalty and Priesthood, fit for a King and God.

Can I encourage you to join me, and take time out during Advent, even if it’s just a few moments somewhere in your busy day? Let’s consciously pause, and take stock of what we are preoccupied with during this Advent. Is it the shopping? Worrying about how your bank balance will fair? The relentless Christmas activities and services? Or something else…?

Join the Wise Men in your imagination, and reflect on the joy and wonder that they experienced, allowing it to turn into prayer. Take time out to let yourself be a precious gift to Jesus. No wrapping, no tinsel, just you: become preoccupied with Him. Let’s ask God to refresh our Advent: for us to ponder on the Gift who came; who will come again; and who comes to us now. And then, together, we can celebrate the perfect Christmas. Do share your thoughts with me, I’d love to hear how Advent is for you!

Craig Nobbs

The Extra Mile

Matthew 5.40-1 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

We are programmed by society, our parents, our culture, our past experiences, our religion to want certain things. If we don’t get them we are unhappy… our programming tells us to be anxious, tense or worried. We expend energy coping with these emotions and even more energy rearranging the world so that the negative emotions aren’t triggered. Our existence is pathetic – we are at the mercy of so much we can’t control.

The way out is to be in the situation that causes us pain or difficulty and to observe ourselves, recognising that what is actually causing the pain is not the situation but the programming. Stay in the situation until there is a choice – we choose to act in a certain way, we don’t have to react

We see how powerful it is then to have the freedom to give to the person who demands our coat our cloak also, or to walk the extra mile. Only when we have freed ourselves from our inner programming can we come to a place of peace and love that permits us to do such a thing.

It reminds me of that Buddhist story of the Zen master:

During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived – everyone except the Zen master.

Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger.
“You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!”

But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.
“And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”

(from here).

 

Discipleship

Luke 14:26 ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

Happiness cannot be found by seeking it – unhappiness is caused by our false beliefs about what makes us happy, and these are so ingrained by society that we are not even aware that we have them – like a dreamer in a dream.  Once we realise that attempting to please others will never bring us happiness we can start to understand this.

Not trying to please others  is difficult.  I write this as someone who got a career because that is what you are expected to do after university.  It was all very pleasant, passed the time nicely, paid the mortgage, but wasn’t what I was called to do.  As I changed my life, discovered my vocation, left the career, stopped worrying about what the world might think (at least sometimes) I found a deeper happiness.  But – it was a scary process!

I was asked over 30 years ago if I might have a vocation to the priesthood, but at that time I was too scared to give up the nascent career that I had, too worried about what “they” might say.  Two questions which Lesley helpfully (really) asks me from time to time are:

  • Who are they – name them?
  • What is the worst that could happen?

They do help 🙂