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Sermon | Advent 3

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Sun sermon 11 Dec / Advent 3 / At St Edward’s / Readings: Matthew 11:2-11 & Isaiah 35:1-10

This morning we remember John the Baptist.  A key figure in the kingdom story. The last of the prophets if you like, the last one to point the way to the Messiah and the first one to point the way, through him, as an adult. We heard last week he was out in the desert in Judea, in camel hair clothing, eating locusts and wild honey, a forerunner to ‘I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here’ perhaps?!

He baptised people for repentance, to walk a new path, and he was the one who Isaiah noted would come:

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’

Isaiah 40:3 (Matthew 11 also)

We know he was Jesus’ cousin, who leapt in the womb when Elizabeth his mother was pregnant with him, on meeting Mary who was pregnant with Jesus. Whose Father Zechariah was a priest: him and Elizabeth had been unable to conceive but an angel appeared and told him he would be a father. He doubted and as a result was unable to speak until baby John arrived, and his first words were to name him John as the angel had said. (Luke 1)

John saw Jesus coming and baptised him. 

He was destined for this, he was called to be a messenger to point the way, and to reveal the Son of God

And yet, today here we read that he is seemingly questioning all this. He is in prison at the hand of Herod – who didn’t like his prophesying against him and his lifestyle.  And from here John is obviously hearing what Jesus is doing – 

perhaps it is not what he expected? 

or perhaps he is fearful for his life – Herod was ruthless and John had no reason to ever believe he would be released, let alone keep his life. 

perhaps he was reflecting on all he had done. 

or, perhaps he has even wondered if Jesus would come and overthrow this king, Herod, and get him out of prison? And yet it wasn’t happening.

In short, he has questions.

And so he asks via his disciples: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

Like – are you really the messiah or did I get it wrong? Please let my life not have been wasted.

And Jesus, instead of being annoyed simply says: tell John what you see happening here – in a ref from Isaiah 61 that John would have recognised.

So, what do we learn from JtB? What does his journey, his calling, have to say for us where we are at? Three things I want to pick out today:

1 – Firstly it’s ok to doubt!

If even JtB can have a moment of doubt, so can we. Look at how Jesus responded to his question. No condemnation or anger, simply: look at what is going on, what do you see? – look at what God is doing here. Let that speak for itself. A gracious response.

Sometimes we hear people say that doubt is the opposite of faith. I think that’s wrong, I think doubt is the partner of faith. Because when we doubt we ask questions, we look deeper, we wonder, and that gives us great opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. Doubt can actually be a gift. I don’t think any one of us no matter how strong our faith, can say that we have never doubted. The point about faith is it is not a cast iron truth that has been proven to us through science or knowledge or circumstance, it is often a gentle truth we come know in our hearts.

2 – You matter

Though JtB was a key figure, he pointed the way to Jesus, he even baptised him, Jesus says we are worth more:

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John is key, but those who come into the kingdom Jesus offers are greater. Not because John was worth nothing – no, Jesus says there was no one greater on earth, but the kingdom of God is greater, the kingdom John was pointing the way to. We are all worth so much in God’s eyes. 

That is why it is so important that we are an inclusive church, we are all different in many ways. Our likes and dislikes, our opinions, our experiences and yet we are family together united in our love of God. It might be messy sometimes, but it’s glorious!

3Point the way

Thirdly, John was called to point people to Jesus, and guess what – so are we! We may not be called as he was to go out into the desert – not sure what the contemporary equivalent would be – perhaps going out to the old Martlets site…!?

Our vision we have here at St Ed’s is all very exciting, new services, seeing a children’s worker but the heart behind all of it, the purpose, the motivation is to see people come to know the Lord. 

You know this week the CofE published mission stats, so essentially numbers about attendance. Even taking into account Covid, last year’s average weekly attendance at CofE churches was just: 605,000. In a population (UK) of 67million. That’s less than 1%. And kids – just 75,000 – across the whole country…

Now of course there are other churches not just CofE, but even taking those into account it’s not much better!

And while we want to grow here, it isn’t about just growing in numbers that we are worried about, it’s because we want to see people growing deeper in their faith. That is our no 1 purpose. To help people meet Jesus and to be on a continuous journey of knowing him deeper – no matter how long we have had faith.

Barry Hill a vicar and mission enabler’ in Leicester Diocese says in response to these stats that we have forgotten how to share our faith. For example, think about the last time you recommended something to someone. A new phone – great loads of features, a book you have read. A holiday. How enthusiastic are you. How passionate? Have you converted anyone to a book or a phone or a holiday? Brand of food?

& then ask yourself, do you talk about your faith like that?  What blessings God has put in your life?  How do we normalise this? Why are we afraid of this?

So to finish, here’s some simple suggestions:

  • Christmas flyers – who has invited anyone? I keep banging on about this but it is soooo easy!
  • When did you last say to someone I’ll pray for you?
  • Told anyone about what you believe? – 
  • Or about your church – exciting times etc… guess what I did at the weekend…

You know we must have delivered 100+ flyers in Denham Rd those week. Only 1 person said – no thank you. Everyone else we spoke to was interested, polite, welcoming. Often we’re more afraid than we need.

So today in this 3rd week of Advent let JtB be our inspiration:

It’s ok to doubt – let it help you grow in your faith

You matter – more even than JtB


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