Baptism of Jesus: Time & Togetherness

It was lovely to be with my great friend Fr Joseph Fernandes this morning. We lived streamed from St Hilda’s, Ashford.

St Hilda’s Ashford – 10/1/21

Genesis 1:1-5

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

Leonardo Divinci’s Baptism of Christ

Happy New Year! I think it is still okay to say that. As we stand at the beginning of another year, with many unknowns and uncertainties that are certainly going to come our way, celebrating the baptism of Jesus should help us to remember that He is very much with us. He always has been. I am going to begin this morning by reflecting on Genesis 1.

In the beginning’, these famous first words started time rolling. A podcast I listened to this past week had a very interesting take on time. Time was the first thing God created. In the words ‘in the beginning’, the clock started running. Ever since then, humankind has been trying to measure time – it started with light and dark, day and night, evening and morning.

Humans created sun dials, water clocks. The philosopher Blaise Pascal is credited with creating the wristwatch when he took out his pocket watch and tied it to his wrist with a piece of string! The minute hand was added in the 1570’s. In the 1970’s when digital watches were made popular, we started to mark time in seconds! What can you do with a second?! We have become obsessed with time and marking it. Reflecting on the last year and our use of time – many people have more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Others have never been busier and can’t spare a second for one more thing.

Time is the most valuable thing that we have. Isn’t it interesting that time is the first thing God created? It is one of the very few things that every single person has in equal measure and no one can change the amount of time they have been given. The difference is, of course, how we fill our time.

We can wax poetically about time; a quick Google search provides all manner of quotes and statements about it.

William Penn: ‘Time is what we want most, but what we use worst’

J.R.R. Tolkein: ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us’

Miles Davies: ‘Time isn’t the main thing; it’s the only thing’

Jonathan Estrim: ‘The way we spend our time defines who we are’

What does time have to do with the baptism of Jesus? A lot actually! At the beginning of time, there was God, water and light. The three key elements of baptism. God’s timing is everything! He is never late, but he is often not in a hurry, as it has been said. As the wind swept over the face of the waters in Genesis, in God’s timing John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness calling for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The time came for Jesus to be baptised, notice the ‘in those days’ Jesus came. We so often ask ‘where has the time gone?’, we count down days or sleeps until x or y happens. Time, biblically speaking, does not go – it comes. The time came for Jesus to be born, the time came for him to be baptised.

For John, Jesus and the disciples time builds up. Time is coming. Time is coming when the vaccines will be in millions of people, time is coming when we won’t have to live in lockdown. I am finding this way of looking at time much more encouraging than counting it down. It unhinges me from the tyranny of counting seconds and hours and the disappointment that inevitably comes when delays and cancellations occur.

There is difficulty in being patient for time to come. It can be a struggle to hold on to hope in the waiting. Proverbs 13:12, ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.’ Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace wrote, ‘The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.’

The time came for the creation of the heavens and the earth, the time came for Jesus to begin his public ministry. The Spirit, breath or wind of God came down at both events to signal the presence and power of God. We all need to know God’s presence with us and in us. This presence shows His great love for us, reveals our purpose, and draws us into His family.

This is what we do in baptism, become part of God’s family. I remember fondly asking a 6-year-old boy I was going to baptise if he knew what his baptism was all about. Without hesitation he said, with a big smile on his face, ‘it means that Jesus and I are friends forever!’ And so much more!

Many of us may not remember our baptisms if we were baptised as babies. We can re-affirm those promises made on our behalf – I am sure Fr Joseph would have loved to have sprinkled you all today!

In his baptism, Jesus enters the dirty, messy waters with us. He didn’t need to be baptised. Jesus’ baptism was called an acute embarrassment by the early church. The gospel accounts are short: Matthew makes the point that John the Baptist tried to argue with Jesus that he should be the one baptizing him and not the other way around. We have this short account in Mark. Luke gives it two verses and doesn’t mention John the Baptist. John has no account at all.

Jesus did not need John’s baptism of repentance. He had not and has not sinned. What was he doing in the waters of the great unwashed, the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors?! Did he not care about his reputation?

Apparently not. This is very good news for us. Jesus’ first act was one of radical solidarity. Jesus stepped into a relationship with sinful humanity. He was not apart from it, not standing on the banks of the river waiting for the water to run clear.

In baptism we are all united to God and to each other. We are interconnected into one family. We cannot let go of this; we need to come back to it. That is why the wrong message of our culture and society that independence, doing it my way, is so dangerous. We are not islands unto ourselves.

Having to live distanced from each other is not helping! We can of course do things to mitigate and stay connected in other ways. Focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. Time is coming when it won’t be like this anymore.

The disciples that Paul met in Ephesus were waiting, but they did not know what they were waiting for. They had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance but did not know about the Holy Spirit. Paul knew what they needed so he baptized the in the name of Jesus. They began to speak in tongues and prophesied. Wild stuff! The time came for them – it wasn’t booked in the diary! These twelve heard God’s Word and it transformed them. They received the light and love of God in that moment. The light and love that gives us a language, a home and a community.

We all need the light and love of God right now, more than ever. We also need to share that light and love with those around us who are living in darkness. God is with us always. The One who started the clock running in the beginning, who tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism is still the One pouring out love and grace on us as individuals but also as His Church. We might not be able to meet in person, but the time is coming when we will be able to and, in the meantime, we are still connected by the waters of baptism.

Advent 3:Gaudete & Goodbye

Advent 3 – Final Sunday
December 13th, 2020
Isaiah 64:1-4-8-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28


I can’t quite believe that this is my final Sunday in Langley! When I started in July 2016, I could not even begin to imagine it ending. Somewhere in the middle I began to think, ‘will this ever end?!’; and now as I have come to the end, I can’t quite believe it still. This is one of those sour-sweet days.

Sour to be leaving you and the parish.

Sweet because today is Gaudete Sunday – one of my favourite days on the church calendar – rose Sunday! Rejoice!

The first sermon I ever preached in the parish was on July 3, 2016 which was St Mary’s Patronal Festival. I had been ordained deacon the day before and was overwhelmed! I re-read that sermon this past week. I preached on Luke 1, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth whilst they were both pregnant. John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of Mary and the in-utero Jesus. I asked the question – when was the last time that your heart leapt for joy?

I know that I have asked lots of questions in my sermons over the last 4 plus years – but this was my first. I think it is fitting that it will be the last one I ask you too.

When was the last time that your heart leapt for joy? Now I am not unaware of Covid, Brexit (we had just cast our votes the week before that first sermon), the general malaise and misery of 2020, etc. But really – think about the answer to my question. When was the last time your heart leapt for joy?

I used to ask my palliative care patients about when the last time was, they truly felt well? Many found it to be a useful exercise in remembering and recovering what had been lost. Remembering that there had been health and better times in the past. It is important to remember that our hearts can still leap for joy and not just at Christmas. Joy surpasses our circumstances; it has a deeper quality to it. True joy is not superficial or temporary. It is stronger and more resilient than happiness; joy is less dependent on our moods and emotions.

On Gaudete Sunday, we are called to rejoice. 1 Thessalonians says to: ‘rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ This Sunday is also a reminder that Advent is quickly passing, and that the Lord’s coming is near. The focus is turning more to the second coming than the first; there is a heightened sense of intense joy, gladness and expectation.

We need to rejoice in what is true, what is good. Listen to the right voices. Find our comfort in the right places. I have been marvelling at Tesco’s Christmas advert for this year with their claim that there is no naughty list. It is catchy and bright but does nothing more than highlight the selfishness of the world. It pans around the country with snippets of people confessing to all the things they have and haven’t done this year. Good and bad, virtuous and shameful. The main message is basically, it’s okay – the good you did will outweigh the bad. So treat yourself! Overbuy on gifts and decadent food – you deserve it! Ah! There is no real or lasting comfort in this. At best it offers distraction, but what about in January when the bills come in and cupboards are bare? Are you going to be rejoicing then?


The Gospel readings for this Sunday always revolve around John the Baptist as the thrust of John’s ministry is the announcement that the Lord’s coming is near – in fact – nearer than you think. I was looking back over the lectionary to see which stories of John the Baptist are used on this Sunday. Year A sets John in prison awaiting his fate. Year B (today) has set John giving his testimony to the priests and Levites sent by the Jews to check him out. Year C has set John chastising the ‘brood of vipers’ and calling for them to repent. On the face of it, none of these events provide obvious reasons to rejoice!

The Kingdom of God – the true kingdom is coming. Herod (the king at the time) wasn’t the real king; God would replace him. Unlike the kingship of Herod, Jesus the King is quite different. This is what we are to rejoice over today – that Jesus the King is coming – despite our circumstances and the events of the world.

The beautiful words of Isaiah 61 are the reminder that I think we need of the kingship, the joy and the comfort of Jesus.

He (God) has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed. To bind up the broken-hearted – anybody this morning?

To proclaim liberty to the captives. To release the prisoners – this isn’t exclusive to those in jail. Anyone who is captive to illness or addiction.

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour – anybody want a better 2021?

To comfort and provide for those who mourn – anyone?

To give them a garland instead of ashes – flowers to celebrate rather than ashes of repentance.

The mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit – anyone a bit faint of spirit this morning?

The planting of the Lord! I want to be planted and be called an oak of righteousness that is not moved or swayed when the wind comes, and the tide rises.

Jesus the King speaks of mercy, healing and rejoicing. More than anything, I want you to know the love, mercy, healing and rejoicing over you from Jesus the King. At the staff meeting this week, there was some laughing over what wisdom I would impart to you.

This is it. If you know the love, mercy, healing and rejoicing over you more now than you did in July 2016 – I leave here satisfied. If I have challenged you, pushed you, helped you in any way to experience or know the love of God more deeply – I can go from here with a leaping heart.

God bless you. I will continue to pray for the parish and for you. Thank you for the love and support you have shown me. May your hearts continue to leap for joy.

Epiphany 2: What Are You Looking For?

Happy New Year one and all! It might feel like a long time ago – but I hope that you had a nice holiday.

We are on the tail end of the Christmas season depending on who you talk to. In the Epiphany season we have the opportunity to consider and study what happened after Jesus was born: the Wisemen coming to visit, the family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod and their return.

The Gospel jumps around a bit as we have a few weeks of Jesus in the early days of his ministry featuring John the Baptist and the gathering and calling of the first disciples. The season ends with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple when he was a baby.

Through these readings runs the theme of new beginnings and the changes and challenges that beginnings can present us with. Not every new beginning, as many of us know, is welcome or wanted.

It can take time to adjust to a ‘new normal’. I think that a lot of the difficulty stems from the changes that are forced upon us and we either lose or have no control over them. Change ultimately requires us to adjust our behaviours, attitudes and expectations; which – if we are honest – we don’t want to do unless we must because it is hard work!

Change can initially bring uncertainty, confusion and can take away our confidence until we learn new ways of living and being.

However, we are not alone in the changes of this life!

In all three of our readings today we see various changes and challenges faced by the people in them. The great comfort is that God is with them and with us!

It is well into the book of Isaiah before the prophet tells the story of his calling. Most of the other OT prophets usually start by giving their credentials: who they are, usually some family information and how they came to be called by God.

Isaiah seems to save his story until he needs to tell it. Isaiah needs to convince the Israelites that God is faithful and has chosen them; so he uses his story, his testimony.

It is not always easy to talk about our faith. We can get awkward about it, make excuses, feel embarrassed or under-prepared. Most people want to know our story though. Who doesn’t like talking about themselves?!
Sharing our stories is an effective way to talk about faith and what it means to us as people can’t argue with personal experience.

Isaiah knows that he has been called by God. This wasn’t easy, he had his challenges, doubts, frustrations and wanted to give up on the people more than once. But he knew, in that deep-down knowing way, that God was faithful and had chosen him before he was born. He wanted the people to know that too.

Corinth was one of the most important cities in Greece with a population estimated at 500,000 people. It was a leading seaport and centre of commerce. Paul had evangelized the city on his third missionary journey.

The church that Paul founded was growing and they needed guidance and reminding on the central themes of the gospel. Paul is writing to the Corinthians to correct and encourage the newly established church.

It wasn’t going to be easy as there were many outside influences – not always positive ones clamouring for attention. Again, God would be faithful and had called and would strengthen the Corinthians to follow him. Paul was speaking to patterns of behaviour in church and at home, dietary issues, sexual issues, how to handle arguments and issues around death.

Sometimes we need correction and guidance that lead to changes in lifestyle or habits. We can need correction and guidance as a church too. God will be with us in the trials and changes.

Paul, in this letter to the Corinthians, wanted them to know that too. God is faithful and that he (God) had called them into fellowship with Jesus.

I was able to get to Canada for 2 weeks of vacation which was great. While I was there, I was able to do some shopping. Compared to shop assistants in the UK, the Canadians are a bit more polite. I was asked numerous times (sometimes in the same shop) ‘can I help you?’ ‘did you find what you are looking for?’ ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’. This is all very normal of course.

I didn’t think much of it, until I read the Gospel reading for this morning. What caught me was Jesus’ asking the disciples of John the Baptist (who happened to follow him), ‘What are you looking for?’ This is the first ever question Jesus ever asks. I think it is a good one – especially at the start of this new year.

It made me think of being in the Canadian shops and being asked that question. ‘What are you looking for?’ Sometimes I had no idea what I was looking for. Other times, I thought I knew but then couldn’t find it or if I did find whatever it was, I thought I was looking for – it wasn’t right.
On rare occasions I did find what I was looking for. Happy day! A rare event indeed!

Here is the third challenge we might be facing this morning and my first question to you this year – what are you looking for? This year, in life, in a situation – whatever it might be.

In order to finding something that we are looking for – as in a shop – we need to look and see what is going on around us. John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and knew immediately who it was and tells his disciples the story of how John knows this.

John had experienced Jesus, they were cousins, born within a few months of each other. I don’t want to speculate how much time they spent together growing up; that information is not known to us. John’s life had a purpose and there was a calling which he fulfilled – ‘to come baptizing with water, that Jesus might be revealed to Israel.’

With the appearance of Jesus, John’s ministry begins to shrink. His calling had been fulfilled. John’s disciples (including Andrew – brother of Peter) are pointed in the direction of Jesus and they follow him. It is at this point when Jesus asks them the question ‘what are you looking for?’

Andrew and the other unnamed disciple obviously found what they were looking for in Jesus. I am not sure they even knew that they were looking for anything. After a few hours with Jesus, they knew they had found something. And a new beginning was begun.

We will find everything we need in Jesus. I am saying that to you as much as I say it to myself. Everything we need will be found in him. I can’t say that enough. Even when it doesn’t feel like it or we can’t see it. Jesus is enough.

I know that many of us are facing change and challenges at the start of this new year. Know that God is faithful and has called you – even if you don’t know to what yet. He was faithful in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and to us today. There is a calling on your life; we are never too or too young to be called. We might have to go looking for it – rest assured it is never that far away. So whatever it is that you are looking for this year – let’s start looking for it and let’s start with the Lord.

Advent 3: Waiting in Vain?

Gaudete in Domine Semper! I love this Sunday in Advent. It is getting closer! This also brings some fear as I realize what I still have to do but also reminds me again of the waiting that is required.

Advent 3 – Year A

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:4-9
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Prayer: God for whom we watch and wait, you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son: give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice, and to suffer for the cause of right, with Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is my favourite Sunday! Rose day! Gaudete! Gaudete in Latin means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening of the Mass for that day: Gaudete in Domine Semper, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. You know that I love it because I can wear pink!

Gaudete Sunday is also a reminder that Advent is quickly passing, and that the Lord’s coming is near. The focus is turning more to the second coming than the first and there is a heightened sense of intense joy, gladness and expectation.

The Gospel readings for Gaudete Sunday always revolve around John the Baptist as the thrust of John’s ministry is the announcement that the Lord’s coming is near – in fact – nearer than you think.

I was looking back over the lectionary to see which stories of John the Baptist are used on this particular Sunday. Year B has set John 1 where John gives his testimony to the priests and Levites sent by the Jews to check him out. Year C has set Luke 3 which is the same account from last week; John chastising the ‘brood of vipers’ and calling for them to repent. Year A sets John in prison awaiting his fate.

On the face of it, none of these events provide obvious reasons to rejoice!

As a refresher, John was sent to jail by Herod. John had been attacking Herod over marrying his brother’s ex-wife which was less than appropriate. John had also been announcing that the Kingdom of God – the true kingdom was coming. Herod wasn’t the real king; God would replace him. I suspect that John was not experiencing intense joy or gladness and his expectations of getting out alive may have been low.

The four walls closing in must surely have limited his vision. So much so that John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’

There are some thoughts about why John asked that question…

One suggestion is that John was disappointed. Maybe he was expecting Jesus to be a man of fire who would sweep through Israel as Elijah did and right all the wrongs. Maybe Jesus was supposed to confront Herod, topple him from his throne, become king in his palace, get John out of prison and give him a place of honour – or at least let him live.

But Jesus is not doing this – he is healing the blind and deaf, cleansing the lepers, befriending the sinners, the tax collectors, ordinary men and women and teaching them about the things of God. Maybe not doing what John wanted him to do. So maybe John is thinking ‘was I wrong?!’

The other suggestion for John’s question is that he wants to know if it is safe for him to give up – to hand the mission on. John was the one to herald the coming of God’s Messiah – how could he do that from a prison cell? Maybe he couldn’t relax until he knew whether or not he had done his job.

John’s ministry only lasted about a year – maybe John did not imagine that his purpose would be fulfilled so quickly. John is waiting (perhaps getting a little short on patience) and hoping. John is waiting to see if what he has done in the past was right; waiting in the present to see if Jesus is the one; and waiting to see if there is another yet to come.

In his waiting and hoping – John gets an answer back. And it probably wasn’t what he was expecting! What Jesus sent back could not be more different from the message that John preached. John shouted for repentance in the face of the wrath of God: he spoke of axes cutting down dead trees and unquenchable fires. Jesus speaks of mercy, healing and rejoicing. Jesus lists the great signs of the coming of the Messiah which had all been prophesied in the past.

Jesus answers John by quoting Isaiah 35 – which John would have known. It is a message all about John – the wilderness, which was John’s home will rejoice and bloom, the fearful of heart are to be comforted – John is in prison, awaiting certain death – how can he not be afraid?

I think that John knew that Jesus was the Messiah. After all – John was the baby that leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when her cousin Mary and her baby (Jesus) came to visit. John the Baptizer knew Jesus the Messiah the moment he saw him at the Jordan River. John knew in his head who Jesus really was.

But time and circumstance can dull the image of our faith perception and leave us feeling not sure what we believe.

I think John’s question had more to do with his heart than his head. John had heard about the miracles and healings Jesus was doing for others and perhaps his faith was shaken. He certainly could have used a miracle for himself – and he didn’t appear to be getting one. And sitting in that prison cell – he might have been having a little trouble knowing it with his heart. Sometimes our faith gets shaken by what we don’t get or what God didn’t do for us personally.

I spoke to an older lady a while ago. She was very honest about where she was at with faith. She told me that after her husband had died after a long period of illness; she came to the conclusion that ‘if there was a God – why did her husband suffer the way he did?’ She couldn’t believe in a God like that. Neither can I.
I don’t have a good answer for that question. There are theological or doctrinal answers that are pastorally unhelpful in these situations. Equally there are pastoral answers that deny the theological problems these situations raise.

Either way, many of us have endured long stretches of suffering, waiting and waiting for God to come through for us. And maybe in those times we have seen or heard of wondrous works He was doing elsewhere. And it hurts! It is painful! The doubts that these types of situations create are probably not coming from our heads but our hearts, our feelings, our hurts.

James also encourages us to be patient and to strengthen our hearts for the coming of the Lord is near; but this references to nearness means the second coming. This James is thought to have been the younger sibling of Jesus, the first born of Mary and Joseph. James didn’t see who Jesus was until after the resurrection. James, like Mary Magdalen, Peter and Paul, had an encounter with the Risen Jesus that completely changed him. From the few accounts there are of Jesus’ family, James would know a thing or two about grumbling against one another. James also doubted who Jesus was.

James, having missed Jesus the first time, now must wait patiently for the next time he comes, like the rest of us. He offers us the prophets as an example of those who waiting in suffering and patience, like Isaiah and John.

John was not like ‘a reed swayed by the wind’ – he was a man of conviction. He was a man of little personal vanity and had a huge commitment to God’s kingdom. James went on to lead the church in Jerusalem and he too was crucified. Neither John nor James were men to buckle under pressure! I think it is safe to have some of our own doubts – if men like that can.

Ann Garrido – (Dec 11th): Today the Church is garbed in pink – that colour of hope in the midst of darkness. We are reminded that even though daylight is difficult to come by and waiting is hard, we are not to cave in to despair but to be open to and sustained by those signs already present in the world around us that let us know that God is at work. While we have not seen the kingdom of God yet in its fullness, there are ways in which that future is breaking into our own time even now – bursts of illumination and freedom, connection and healing. Our faith does not hinge on promises still unfulfilled but on promises in the process of being fulfilled this very day.’

So from the James reading: You also must be patient, Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

And…Gaudete in Domine Semper.

Advent 2: Bear Fruit


8/12/19

Advent 2 – Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love.
Amen.

The second Sunday of Advent, over time, has been set aside to remember and reflect on The Prophets of the Old Testament. The focus on The Prophets gives us the opportunity to reflect on the way the Jesus’ birth was foretold in the centuries before it actually happened.

I love the season of Advent – I grew up in an evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and we were always big on Advent – wreaths at home and at church, calendars (my preference has always been for the chocolate ones)!

I also know that for myself marking Advent goes some way in keeping my cynicism towards the commercialization of Christmas low. It is very easy to complain about the stuff in the shops too early or how the Christian message gets lost today. I would argue that to some extent that Christians have let it go as has the church. If we do not prepare ourselves and examine again what it all means – then how can we possibly be the Prophets of today who can share the Good News of this season with others?

Isaiah speaks of a king who is to come and what to look out for. Paul in Romans reminds the church in Rome to remember ‘whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction’ so that the church would be one voice. John the Baptist was being prepared in the wilderness to be the voice that cries out.

The people of Israel that Isaiah is speaking to have been through the mill. The first 39 chapters of the book speak mainly of punishment and the exile of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon. Chapters 40-66 begin to speak of things turning around with messages of comfort and the end of punishment for Jerusalem. Within these two main sections there are further identifiable sections. Ch 1-12 (where we are this morning) is characterized by prophecies about Judah and Jerusalem alternating between judgement and salvation.

In both Isaiah and Romans there is mention of the ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’. This is another way of speaking about a king in the line of David – along with Isaiah 9:2-7. That king is who we believe to be Jesus.

The line of David had been devastated during the exile and many people had no hope of restoration. Isaiah is prophesying that now a new shoot will spring out of it, in the form of a Davidic king who will bring a new age of righteousness and justice for Judah. Hope is on the horizon! Isaiah’s prophesy is telling the people of Israel what kind of person to look out for and what kind of changes to see in the world. The King is coming!

The wilderness, biblically speaking, is often a place of transformation and preparation – Jesus is taken for 40 days into the wilderness at the start of his ministry, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the promised land. The wilderness is also a place of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. Christians can often speak of having those times in the wilderness when God feels distant, it can be a time of great doubt and despair. All you can do is wait and watch for God as though your life depends on it. This doesn’t sit comfortably in the season of Christmas parties and carol singing.

John the Baptist bursts onto the scene in the opening verses/chapters of all four Gospels from the wilderness. John brings the message of hope for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. John also wants us to prepare spiritually for this coming. There are two things, according to John that we need to do.

Firstly, we need to clear a path for the Lord and secondly that path is to be straight. The original Greek word for paths here means ‘a beaten pathway’; a well-worn path, a path that has seen some use, it’s been established, walked on.

In a personal way God wants us to prepare a path to him. If you were to picture what your path to God looks like – what do you see? Is it well worn? Lightly tread?

Is our path to God straight? I know that mine sometimes is more of a meandering path – taking the long way! I vividly a sermon where a rather charismatic preacher suggested we should ‘go to the throne before we go to the phone.’ Have we made a path for Him to come and do a major and powerful work in our lives? I trust that God wants us to make a beaten pathway to Him. Go to Him over and over again – in the first instance!

We also need to clear that path of debris – this can be anything that standing in the way of God being able to work in our lives fully. There are ways that we can make a beaten path. I will suggest two that I came across from a friend’s blog reflection on preparing spiritually for Christmas.

Firstly, meditate of the fact that we need a Saviour. We all need Jesus.

Ali in her blog writes: ‘My friend recently confessed that growing up in a Christian home, she has never really understood the depth of her need for a Saviour.

Another friend, after battling addiction for years, knows and relies daily on her desperate need for a Saviour, the very giver of her sanity, health and life. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between.’

I know that I need to deepen my awareness of God in areas of my life. It is embarrassing how short my memory can be sometimes.

Secondly, engage in sober self-examination. John’s first words when he appeared from the wilderness ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ It is also no coincidence that in Matthew’s Gospel, the first line of Jesus’ first sermon is ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (4:17).

John has a serious go at the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him for baptism. ‘Bear fruit worthy of repentance’ he tells them. Maybe this is why John the Baptist never appears on any Christmas cards or Advent calendars?

My friend Ali again in her blog, ‘This does not mean checking how many moles are on your back or how many wrinkles have appeared around your eyes (though there is a time and place for this type of self-examination).

Rather, this is a deep internal examination of how we are doing spiritually. The Christian writer John Piper says, ‘Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter’. There should be time for honest self-reflection, where we invite the Holy Spirit in to show us where we need His help and healing the most.’

John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is a way of getting our paths clear and straight. I think that many of us would assign this kind of reflection to Lent and not Advent. Yet it is through John we have a gateway to the swaddled baby, fleecy lambs, singing angels and wisemen that we hold so dear at this time of year.

Confession and repentance bring a cleansing and a change of mind and heart can help us turn back to God. It can clear and straighten the path like nothing else can. It is not easy and may not seem to fit in the season of mulled wine and mince pies. They don’t taste as good as a clean heart and mind feel though. Advent and Christmas are full of wonderful activities – but they can also distract us from what is more important. Again, why I choose to mark Advent and it is hard work some days.

Repentance needs to be taken seriously. It means stopping and turning around. Is there anything you need to stop doing? We can of course ask for forgiveness for the things we do wrong – but if we don’t get serious about stopping sin – we cheapen forgiveness, it becomes worthless and meaningless. This is what John means in his demand that the Pharisees and Sadducees to ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance.’

It is a very dangerous mindset to enter into – thinking that we have license to do what we want because we can be forgiven. God will not be mocked. He also knows the desires out of hearts, He searches us out and knows what our true motivations are.

Stopping something is never easy – especially if it has become an ingrained pattern of behaviour or habit. Stopping means changing behaviour, becoming vulnerable and finding new ways of living and being. It is hard but not impossible. We have the God for whom nothing is impossible. He will help and provide.

Paul in the letter to the Romans talks about the scriptures written for our instruction (not entertainment) so that we might have hope. The God of steadfastness and encouragement is with us. Steadfast is a great and often forgotten word – it means immovable, unchangeable, firmly fixed in place. Not much in the world around us feel steadfast in these days. Thank God that we have a God who is steadfast!

In this Advent season my prayer is that you will know the hope of Jesus the Messiah as we celebrate his birth and await his return. I also pray that amidst the turkey and tinsel you find time to deepen your need for the Saviour who loves and cares for you. May you also know his love and forgiveness this season too. As uncomfortable as it might be, some serious self-examination might be in order to. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement be with you. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.