Do you need a sign?

given on Sunday, December 5, 2010:

Main idea: John the Baptist prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah.

Questions:

  • Who is John the Baptist?
  • Why was it necessary for John the Baptist to predict Jesus’ coming?
  • Do we need another prophet today?
  • Are we really prepared for Christ to come?

Song reference: “Days of Elijah” by Robin Mark

Tuesday morning, tired and hurrying around, I had to return to the regular workweek.  Was I prepared?  No.  Was I even thinking about the season?  No, but I went through the motions.  The day was not so terribly bad, but it was not great.

Wednesday morning, surely I am ready for today.  Jump in the car, pull out and off I go for the workday.  As my mind begins changing from sleep and rushing mode, the words started surfacing. . .

These are the days of Elijah,

Declaring the word of the Lord:

And these are the days of Your servant Moses,

Righteousness being restored. . . .

 

The lyrics were like a surge of energy and I heard them.  I almost felt like they were shouting not only out to me, but through me.  . . .

And though these are days of great trial,

Of famine and darkness and sword,

Still, we are the voice in the desert crying

‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’ . . .

 

There was that question:  Are you prepared?  Those words were the focus of Sunday’s sermon.  Yesterday I did not feel prepared, today I thought I was prepared, but I was only thinking about being prepared for the workday.

Today’s question is ‘Do you need a sign?’  My first reaction to that question is ‘why?’  Why should I, a believing Christian, need a sign?  What type of sign could I possibly need?  What would be the purpose of a sign?  We have the Bible.  We have the historical data.  We have our own experiences.  Surely all we have to do is to put all this information together to know that there is a God and that to join him in heaven we just have to love one another.  Why would I need a sign?

Behold He comes riding on the clouds,

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call;

Lift your voice, it’s the year of jubilee,

And out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.  . . .

 

Wednesday morning the words came soaring out of the car’s speakers and I became energized.  I felt renewed, hopeful, downright eager for the coming of the Lord.

Today’s scripture about John the Baptist may seem out of sync with the second Sunday of Advent, but stop and go back to the purpose of the second candle in the Advent wreath:  the ‘Candle of the Way’ representing John’s prophecy of Jesus’ message.

The Jewish people had been told that a Messiah was coming.  The years and years of prophecy told them so.  Yet, Jesus was born quietly into this world, he had to grow up and that simply takes time.  The child, though he was God, still had to develop and even prepare himself for the work to be done.  John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s son and Jesus’ cousin remember, stepped out to prepare his own people, the people in his community and more, for the coming of Christ.  John the Baptist was the sign of the times (oops, another cliche’).

Is today any different than the days of John the Baptist?  If the prophets had not been enough preparation for the world, why was John the Baptist needed?  Remember Elijah had already told the world that Jesus was coming.  Still, the words ending that first verse haunt us:

And though these are days of great trial,

Of famine and darkness and sword,

Still, we are the voice in the desert crying

‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’ . . .

 

John the Baptist knew the world was in the same state.  God needed him to visibly show the people that they needed to prepare.  He became the New Testament prophet as he walked the paths, lived off the land, dressed as Elijah had dressed, and proclaimed the coming of the Lord.  His visible role was necessary.  And the work that he did opened up new possibilities.

The culture at that time still was not an inclusive one.  Different social groups avoided each other, one tribe fought another tribe, one sect declared another sect heretical, and that was the norm even within God’s Chosen People, the Twelve Tribes, so consider what it was like between the faithful and the pagans.  John the Baptist was just one man challenging not only his own Jewish people but also an entire world.  The world needed a sign; the world needed to prepare.

Do we, in 2010, still need a sign to grab our attention and to prepare us for the Kingdom of Heaven?  I am afraid we do.  I also think we have no idea what the Kingdom of Heaven is nor what we are really preparing for.  Why we know that Jesus came, went, and returned to fulfill the prophecy.  Why, then are we not prepared?

The language used in our churches and in our materials is almost like a riddle.  It is difficult to understand the ‘word of God’ when so many translations are used.  It is difficult to understand what is ‘the Way’ or ‘the kingdom of Heaven.’  To prepare takes effort.  To prepare takes study and prayer.

In reading through the supporting materials for this week’s lectionary from Matthew, I found new information.  At least it was new to me.  In John Welsey’s notes I learned that John the Baptist drew two different, almost feuding, groups together:  the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  These two religious groups had two different purposes and did not get along.  The Pharisees focused on religion while the Sadducees focused on politics.

. . . Members of (the Sadducees) were drawn from the governing class, did not believe in an afterlife, and differed markedly from the Pharisees in their interpretation of Scripture.  That we find the groups together here is remarkable, then, and shows the wide appeal of John’s renewal movement. . . .

 

This, according to Wesley, was significant evidence that John the Baptist was preparing the way, that Jesus was meant to bring all together under God.

The second verse of the song, “The Days of Elijah,” continue to represent the New World after the coming of the Messiah:

These are the days of Ezekiel,

The dry bones becoming as flesh;

And these are the days of Your servant David,

Rebuilding a temple of praise.

These are the days of the harvest,

The fields are as white in Your world,

And we are the labourers in Your vineyard,

Declaring the word of the Lord!

 

Are we prepared?  Do we need a sign?  Only you can answer these questions for yourself.  Maybe Advent is our sign.  Maybe celebrating each year keeps us prepared.  Maybe Christian celebration of Christmas is evidence to a world of differing beliefs and cultures and standards that Christ is the Messiah, that heaven on earth can begin as simply as the arrival of a child who loves one another without any strings attached.

The sign?  Each year something pops up to grab our attention.  In the middle of this week, actually only on Friday, a sign appeared along the Kansas City commuter routes.  In a way it is alarming and in another way it simply reminds us to be prepared because we really do not know when or how Jesus will return.  These are just like the days of Elijah and we do declare the word of the Lord.

And though these are days of great trial,

Of famine and darkness and sword,

Still, we are the voice in the desert crying

‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’ . . .

 

Are you prepared?  Do you need a sign?  Just remember,

There’s no God like Jehovah.

There’s no God like Jehovah!

 

Dear Jehovah,

We hear your words.

We read the stories.

We review Jesus’ life every year.

Yet we may not be prepared.

As the Advent season proceeds,

Help us to identify the signs

Of Jesus’ presence in our lives,

Of your work among the needy,

Of you in the midst of turmoil;

And we will know

That however you return

We will be prepared.

Amen.

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