Reflection for Advent:
John the Baptist’s part in the story of Jesus is bigger and closer to Jesus than we normally recognise. He led the way for Jesus right the way through to death. In many ways his life was as demanding as the Virgin Mary’s, but he’s much less reflected upon and his prayers are much less sought. But for today I want to point to just one aspect of his life. In the Christian East John is known, not as ‘the Baptist’, but as the Forerunner, the Preparer. Preparation is what John preaches, but it’s what he is. If Jesus’ life is the gospel itself; John’s life is the straight path that prepares the way for him.
We often talk of this in terms of ‘conversion’, of people coming from no or old faith to a fresh faith in God. A turning point, a change of direction, a replacement of one thing with another. But the word that’s in the gospel (v. 4), that scripture uses, is much more interesting, metanoia (μετάνοια). It runs much deeper. It’s about transformation over time; a response that inaugurates a change to a new way of thinking and living that lasts over time. It’s about something deep in our inner life, in our spirits, our consciences.
Matthew begins his gospel with Jesus’s birth; Luke begins with John’s birth; the evangelist John begins with creation’s birth. But Mark begins much later than all of them with the appearance in the desert of a man who feels personally challenged by the word of God, and responds to it with his life. He’s literally a voice in the wilderness, calling to others to do the same as him and prepare their lives for the Son of God to come. The gospel begins when a human being shows the ability to start something in his life in obedience to the word of God, even if that’s confusing or painful. It’s a beginning that depends on a lively relationship with God, and that extends for a lifetime.
This was why people “from the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem went out to him”. They were not going far: just the few miles east of Jerusalem into the nearby rocky desert territory that leads down and down and down to Jericho and the Jordan river, where John was baptised them as a new sign of preparation for the appearance of the Messiah.
And nor do we need to go far to enter a space, and listen to a voice that calls us to change our lives—whether that voice comes from Christ himself in prayer, or through his saints, his word, the clergy who serve our life in the Church, or one another as disciples. We need to prepare our lives for the good news of Jesus to take change us by his mercy and grace. It will be an experience like going into a barren desert waste, because it will involve us coming to terms with what is essential—what we need and what we lack, what we do not need and what we need to shake off. In the Scriptures the desert is a place of ruins, wild beasts and demons. And there is no doubt that if our lives are to be changed we will need to deal with the wild beasts of our desires, the ghosts of our hearts, the demons of our secrets, and some of the ruins of our past lives. But by listening to the word of God the human heart also experiences—bit by bit, because we can’t cope with it full-on—God’s freedom, and light, and mercy. The effect of listening to the word of God is to be able to hear God speaking to our hearts, and, over a lifetime, our hearts being transformed into Christ’s heart.
Our prayers this week for:
Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury...our part in proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom…H M The Queen and her family…growth in our Churches…our Churchwardens and Deputies...those resident in care homes and their relatives…Kingsbridge Area Foodbank …those who have lost their work or business and their families…the depressed, lonely and anxious... our home communicants...all who have asked our prayers including the sick and among them Gill and Trevor Moore, Jean Flawn, Bobby Parsons, Dick Lloyd, Gill Mickel, Evelyn Hedger, Keith and Jackie Rollinson, Katherine Yandell, Jamie Cooke, Andrew Graner, Carlene Whittington and Marjorie Godden.. those who have died recently and among them Marie-Christine Kerr and those whose anniversaries we keep at this time and among them Beverly Brown, Edna Collins, Mary Stevens, Gladys Dorling and Beryl Ticquet.
Visiting & Home Communions
I am recommencing visiting and home communions provided it is safe for me to visit. I shall contact folk first and please expect me to come wearing a facemask.
If you would like to contact me about any personal or pastoral matter please do so, I should be very happy to help you. Please leave a message on my phone 01548 580908 or send me an email.
Your Church is still here for you, please know we are praying for you, for those in need, and for all those you love. Please do get in touch if there is anyone or anything I can pray for or if I can help you in any way.
With my prayers and very best wishes
Priest in Charge: Fr Michael Berrett, The Vicarage, Stokenham, Kingsbridge, Devon TQ7 2ST 01548 580908 firstname.lastname@example.org