Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


St John the Baptist
June 24, 2011, 2:38 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: ,

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, 24th June 2010

The hand of the Lord was with him… and the child grew.” The more alert of you will have noticed there are verses missing. Here, St Luke puts on the lips of Zechariah the second of his wonderful Gospel Canticles, said every day at Morning Prayer: the Benedictus.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! A characteristically Jewish opening to prayer, designating God as the object of our praise and that of all creation.

He has visited and redeemed his people. God’s “visitation” of his people is again a constant theme, but what is meant by “redeemed”? Literally, “he has made a redemption” for his people, he has made a payment in order to buy back a property that has been alienated. For Luke, this looks forward to the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. When the child John grew up, he would call Jesus “the Lamb of God”, the life offered in order to save the lives of God’s enslaved people.

He has raised up a mighty salvation for us in the house of his servant David. This redemptive payment is already in existence, in the unborn Christ whose mother had come to be with the mother of John: that too was a “visitation”. The Messiah was to be from the lineage of David, remembered as the ideal King.

As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began. Zechariah sees what is happening as the fulfilment of God’s plan from the beginning of the world, from the very Fall of mankind; and God has always been speaking of it to his people.

That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all that hate us. We are not thinking just of the historic enemies of the Jewish people, but the enmity and hatred of Satan himself for the human race.

To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers and to remember his holy covenant; to perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham, that he would give us that we (being delivered out of the hands of our enemies) might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. God’s ancient covenant with Abraham was not just defence against enemies, but that we should be in a perpetual relationship with him, marked by holiness and righteousness as well as freedom from fear.

And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways. Zechariah turns to his tiny son, and proclaims his destiny and calling: to prepare the way for God’s visitation, which is both already present (in the unborn Christ) and still to come (in his future sacrifice). John will fulfil the prophecy of Malachi, to be the “new Elijah”.

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people for the remission of their sins. Again, the redemption and salvation envisaged is not just political, but moral and spiritual.

Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high has visited us. God’s compassionate nature, his “hesed”, is the reason why “the Dawn from on high”, the new Sunrise, will be sent. Note, it doesn’t just happen, it is sent by God.

To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Christ is the Light of the world; in our ignorance, overshadowed by the certainty of death, he offers us hope, guiding us into the right way, the way of peace, the way back to God.

There is an Old English poem entitled “Christ”, rather long and turgid, but containing in its first part lines which inspired JRR Tolkien to write. “Eiala Earendel! engla beorhtast/ ofer middangeard monnum sended.” “Hail, Rising Sun (or Morning Star, the name is rather mysterious), brightest of angels, over Middle-earth sent to men!” John whose birthday we celebrate was the Herald of the Dawn, the Sunrise, the Son of God whose birth we shall celebrate half a year from now.

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