“He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.” Words from Brian’s Mother in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Maybe the inspiration came in some way from John’s words today ‘I am not the Messiah.’
The Messiah was the one who was going to come and sort things out, restore the Jewish people and assure them of their special status as God’s chosen people. They didn’t quite get what they expected. We’ll be thinking more about that in a few days.
In the meantime however we think about John mistaken identity and being a witness to another who is to come. For there are parallels between us and John.
Maybe we don’t wear the latest range of camel’s hair clothing at least not in public but we are like him in that in our living we are called to point to the one who is to come. It’s challenging work and so it can sometimes feel that we are like voice(s) crying out in the wilderness. Yet God has and does call and use us to be as Isaiah so wonderfully put it ‘oaks of righteousness.’
The oak, such a venerable tree has deep roots. We come here Sunday by Sunday to worship, pray and have our roots nurtured. So that the branches of our lives, the witness that we offer for Christ can be spread far and wide over our city and beyond.
A 16th century mystic and poet, St. John of the Cross, whom the church remembers today offers us some words to ponder as we think of our witness:
‘for each one of us is the midwife and there under the dome of your being does creation come into existence, through your womb dear pilgrim, the womb of your soul and God grasps our arms for help.’
This is an intriguing image, midwives bringing God’s love into this world. And in faith as God grasps our soul John of the Cross helps reminds us that our arms are like the branches of the oak stretched out in love and service to our neighbours wherever they may be.
That love and service takes many forms but I want to think about two.
At the PCC on Tuesday night as we journey to fashion a vision for our parish for the years to come, a recurrent theme was an anxiety about our limited resources in terms of people.
However our churchwarden Shelagh was able to identify a significant number of people on our pastoral roll who are already involved in all kinds of work, serving our neighbours in our community and beyond. There is much to give thanks for.
Yet there is always more to be done, new opportunities presented both here at St. Marys and more widely in our community.
For example last week I mentioned in our notices another Foodbank needing volunteers, and then on Monday, Cielo a community based not for profit coffee house opened a new shop in Cross-Gates they too need help.
These are practical examples of what our witness might look like. Maybe you have been thinking in this season that you would like to do more, well as St. Paul put it ‘now is the time to awake out of sleep because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.’(1)
But even if there is no time for doing more there is also important spiritual work to be done, not least in keeping hope alive by how we choose to live. Being like Isaiah striving to see beyond our present limitations to the fulfilment of all things in Christ.
In his enduring words he wrote that his calling was to bring ‘good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to comfort all who mourn, to give a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, to encourage a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.’
Maybe a start is to take this sheet home and pray through Isaiah’s words, thinking of where you see the need for hope.
These practical and spiritual things help us to be the ‘oaks of righteousness’ that Isaiah speaks of. People rooted in the love of God never forgetting that ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon us.’
We aren’t the Messiah (thank goodness) we may be very naughty (or perhaps a little), we aren’t worthy to ‘untie the thong of his sandal’ yet we are caught up in love, called to be bearers of light and hope bringing something of the God’s love to birth wherever we are.
That’s not easy and sometimes that does make feel like we are voices crying in the wilderness, as we keep the rumour of God alive but in this season of Advent we are in our calling to be a people of hope.
The other day someone was telling me, knowing my love of films, of how they had seen on Breakfast television something about the best ever Christmas film. I was delighted to know that the poll winner was ‘It’s a wonderful life’ a film all about hope.
It’s a film that always makes me cry (lots) so I can’t watch it too often as I’d end up an emotional wreck. It makes me cry because it reminds me that no matter how bad things seem, even when despair seems to have triumphed that there is always hope of finding another way. That need for hope is a universal longing of the human soul, something we need to be reminded from time to time as we go through this life.
That’s what Isaiah does, he proclaims hope highlights a different way and so in our own way do we. We like John the Baptist, live lives that hint at and point to the one who is to come, the one whom we await with longing hearts.
We’re not the Messiah but we are a people who’ve been caught up and transformed by love.
May we be oaks of righteousness, with deep roots and branches that spread far and wide as we keep the hope of Christ’s coming alive.