An ECCA Parish
In the care of the Ecumenical Franciscan Order
Homily preached at Warrimoo on Sunday 14th December 2014:
THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT. Year B.
Readings: Old Testament Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11;
Epistle 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28;
Gospel John 1:6-8,19-28
Why are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor the Prophet nor Elijah?
Although year B is the year in which we read through the Gospel of Mark, today our Gospel reading comes from John because we need to hear something about the other John, the Baptizer, that only this John wrote because he was one of two of Jesus’ disciples who were also disciples of John the Baptizer and had to be there at the time.
Writing here about 40 years after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, John the Evangelist introduces John son of Zachariah as a witness who came to testify to the Light to all who would believe in the Light. Most importantly this John tells us that the other John, the Baptizer, is not the Light. And this is the very first thing John the Baptizer himself tells those sent by the Pharisees when they came to ask him whether he was the Messiah.
The Gospel says “He confessed and did not deny that he was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Light”, there were those ready to proclaim him Messiah, St Luke tells us that people were full of expectation and nurtured the hope in their hearts than John was the Messiah – Luke 3:15, that is why John the Baptizer was so emphatic in his denial that he was the Messiah, the Light just mentioned by the Evangelist.
So who are the other two?
The Priests and Levites then ask John whether he is Elijah or the Prophet. “Neither” he says.
At their request he explains who he is and what he is doing, ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I, is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)
The Prophet Malachi (4:5,6) foretold that before, the time of the final destruction of the Jewish city, temple, and commonwealth, he would send Elijah back to preach repentance and reformation before the Lord sent His consuming fire. The fact that John’s preaching had been so much like Elijah’s is what had drawn them all out into the desert to confess their sins and to be baptized.
Was John the Baptizer really Elijah? St Luke tells us that John came in the Spirit and Power of Elijah, John was like Elijah, but not Elijah, in Luke I: 17 he says 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he (John) will go before him (Jesus), to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ This echoes the verses from Malachi chapter 4 that I paraphrased above concerning the end of the Jewish Commonwealth in 70 AD.
As for “the Prophet” he was the One “Like Moses”-(Deuteronomy18:15-18) Jesus combined the offices of prophet, priest, leader, and deliverer. Which none of those subsequent to Moses did; we can easily see that Jesus is like Moses, Moses who was the Archetypal prophet, the mould none others save Jesus could fill. The lives of Jesus and Moses shared many similarities. They were both delivered from death as infants, both were prophets. Both performed miracles. Both were leaders. And both were willing to die for the sins of others. Moses offered to die, if it became necessary, so that God would forgive the sins of the people that Moses was leading (see Exodus 32:30-33), although God did not accept his offer – Jesus did die for our sins so that people might enter the kingdom of heaven.
As though looking through a time tunnel, we now view the coming Saviour from the steps of Mount Horeb and the Lord said
“18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.”
Then move onward through the prophet Isaiah as he predicts the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon… Take a few seconds to re-read the first verse of the Old Testament Reading.
These very words are read by Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth as recorded in Luke 4:21 and afterwards as he rolled the Scroll up again he began to say to them, Today that very Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ I am He who will bring to you Good News, Healing, Freedom and Enlightenment, as is the summary of Isaiah 61:1
If you listened carefully to the reading as Isaiah foretells the release of the Jews by Cyrus in order that they return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and restore the city to its former grandeur, it is exactly the opposite to what is to happen after both the likeness of Elijah and Moses have been among the Jews.
As we can’t help knowing, verse 9 of Isaiah 61 did not come to pass if the Jewish people had clung to the Lord in obedience once returning to Judah and then had accepted Jesus as saviour when he arrived they likely would not have had to flee from the destruction of their Commonwealth.
It is believed that Psalm 126 was written by Ezra after the return to Judah
It was so amazing that Cyrus should dismiss such a number of captives without money and without ransom, that he should issue a decree for them to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city and temple, and especially that he should send them home loaded with presents, Ezra 1:1-4; this was nothing other than the work of Yahweh, who could only in this way “turn the captivity of Zion”
Those who were returned at this time where the faithful few we could say somewhat akin to the Thessalonians now awaiting the second coming of our Saviour, notice the similarity in the final verses of the Old Testament Reading and the Psalm – they are in accord, gardens can be references to Paradise.
Paul speaks quietly and reassuringly to the Thessalonians, speaking to them of the various types of ministry and labour appropriate to Christian Mission, of the expected demeanour of subordinate to superior and or brother to brother. Not stifling the Spirit nor being heedless of the Prophets, to remain as Jesus had left the believers sanctified, sound in body, mind and spirit and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To make this Epistle known to others…
And so we are through the time tunnel and let us end our race with the promises with which we began. John 1:26b,27 "John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’"
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.