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A Reflection on John The Baptist

Homecoming Service at York Minster

Sunday 9th December 2012

Today, the Archbishop's sermon in The Sun on Sunday is about John the Baptist and a prayer for grace and mercy is offered. The Archbishop also talks about a local carol service and a homecoming service which took place for the Yorkshire Regiment this week. His sermon in full follows...

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, I spoke about the need for us to Wake up, Clean up, Feed up, Grow up during Advent, in preparation for the coming of the Lord.

The readings in church today are about John the Baptist. John was Jesus’ cousin, born a few months before him. His father Zechariah had burst into song when John was born singing that John was the one called to make sure everyone was ready when the promised Saviour came.

When he grew up, that’s just what John did. He was a very single minded individual, who knew what the focus of his life should be.  He didn’t mind people thinking he was odd.  He didn’t need affirmation or praise .He just knew he had a job to do, and that job was to prepare for the Saviour’s coming, and make sure all the people were ready. He always raised the level of expectancy.

You may remember, during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee travels, that a lot of polishing of shoes, buying of new hats, planting of new flowerbeds,  sprucing up of town centres, went on ahead of the Queen’s visits the length and breadth of our Four Nations. The Bible reading from Luke 3 talks about the kind of preparations which had to be made for the arrival of the Son of God. The rough places had to be smoothed out, the paths had to be made straight.

But John the Baptist wanted people to do more than polishing and tweaking the outside of things. He knew that if people were to be really ready to receive Jesus when he came they’d have to polish up the inside of their lives as well!  This meant that they’d have to change their ways – so he called them to repent. That is, to make a U-turn from the way they’d been carrying on before. To recognise that their lives wouldn’t really bear the scrutiny of the King of Kings when he came.

Yes, a turn-around to fact the God of love who longs to make us what we were meant to be – very much like Jesus Christ.  Let us turn our lives to God so that he may straighten them out, smooth the rough edges, help us turn away from the activities which damage us, so that we can truly be ourselves. If we do that now, we will be ready for the best Christmas ever, and for a new year full of possibilities and hope.

The special prayer for today

The special prayer for today – the Second Sunday in Advent – also recognises the need for God to help us get straightened out. We pray to God that “his bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us from our sins and wickedness, which have grievously hindered us in running the race that is set before us.”

There are many things which hamper us in the race of life.  If we are to make it to the finishing line, we need to get rid of what holds us back.

Imagine if Mo Farrah had been carrying a rucksack full of bricks, if Jessica Ennis had been wearing heavy boots and a long dress.

We may have burdens, or we may be approaching life in the wrong way.  But Jesus Christ, as our trainer and mentor, can help us get rid of the things which trip us up. Let us listen to him.

Wonder and Hope

I have been to two wonderful and hopeful things in York this week.

On Tuesday evening I went to the Archbishop Holgate School Carol Service in York Minster.  It was a truly joyful night, with pupils from the Junior and Senior school acting out the Christmas story, through word, music and dance. Mary sang of the wonder of the coming of this amazing baby, Jesus; Herod and his soldiers were shaken by the change this would bring; and all those who heard the news were transformed by the new possibilities that the Son of God brings into our lives. What an amazing night!

On Wednesday afternoon I was at the Minster again for a very moving Homecoming Service for the Yorkshire Regiment. We thank God for the safe return home of so many of our service men and women and rejoice that they will be able to celebrate a joyful and peaceful Christmas with friends and family. And we pray especially for those families whose loved ones have sadly died in the conflict, and we thank God for their bravery and service.

May we all experience the joy of that hope which is transforming our world, and making our darkness clear away.

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