Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 17 December 2017.
We have all seen the electoral campaigns in which party leaders parade themselves with ever more extravagant promises, all of which would be funded by increasing the taxes or reducing the benefits of their opponents’ supporters.
It is as if the problems, whether of the world or the country or the city, could be resolved by bossing others about and increasing the burdens that they are carrying. Tax more, regulate more, prove need more rigorously, operate more efficiently, and so it goes on.
Essentially all things are to be possible – provided of course that it is at the expense of the winners’ opponents.
But that is emphatically not the programme for world improvement offered by our lessons today. Rather it is the Servant of the Lord who will achieve these things and He will do so through His own example and teaching, and ultimately by His own death and resurrection.
Rather than imposing more burdens on others, He will release them. Far from making others answer for their sins and failures, He will take them to the cross Himself, and take personal responsibility for them.
Instead of making His enemies suffer, He will exert Himself to bring them healing and wisdom, showing that there is indeed a new way of seeing the problems of the world and therefore of solving them.
But let there be no mistake, the One to come will reign and reigning He will rule. Peace and justice will start with Him, and He will set out just what these things mean.
But His rule is about rebuilding what is ruined and abandoned, refreshing what is parched, trimming what is overgrown, and cultivating what has run wild.
More than that it is in healing the sick and forgiving the penitent. It includes helping the sinful to see the possibility of forgiveness where there was only condemnation.
It also means helping the emotionally crippled to see beyond the bars of their own minds and memories to what could be, and what is already there, waiting for them.
The programme of the Suffering Servant may involve destroying the strongholds of evil and vice and corruption, but only in order to replace them with gardens of wholeness and healing.
To pull down without a plan for rebuilding may be fashionable and it may satisfy our more destructive instincts, but it leaves only ruins and waste places.
And so Paul points the church to the possibilities and indeed the power in prayer and in worship. It is here that the strongholds of the world can indeed be demolished and it was in such prayer that the Polish people began to topple the communists in their own country.
And so he urges them to pray without ceasing and to do so in the power of the Holy Spirit and definitely without quenching – or indeed grieving Him in the process.
Rather it is in and through the Holy Spirit that the power of Jesus is being made present and apparent in all circumstances, so the more dire the times then the more the church should be praying the prayers that Jesus Himself would be praying in this place.
Perhaps this brings me to the ministry of John the Baptist, and why we celebrate him during Advent. This is a season for looking forward to the Kingdom of God and its final realization.One major feature of John’s ministry was not to point to himself.
He certainly lived a simple, even rugged life of self-denial, without apparent excuses. But apart from drawing attention to the sins of the nation, he was also pointing directly and insistently to the One to come.
He was only the fore-runner and the herald, and if his message was near the bone then the message to come would indeed cut to the quick of all desires and motivations.
If John was speaking to certain groups and occupations then the One to come would be speaking into the most intimate motives and impulses of humanity, and there would be no escape, whether Jew or Roman or Greek; priest or scribe or synagogue ruler; wealthy or poverty-stricken, healthy or leprous.
The One to come would not waste time on comparing people or occupations with eachother. Rather, all would be compared with the holiness of God, and the only escape would be for the penitent.
As we approach Christmas it is easy to be distracted by preparations for family festivities and the presents for members of the family. It is easy to see it only as the birth of a baby – for this would reduce the feast to manageable proportions.
But we trivialize Christmas at our peril, if we refuse to look beyond our comfort-zones and towards the glorious things that God has promised and which He is already committed to fulfilling. For the way of the manger is also the way to the cross.