Mt  11.2-11                       Is 35.1-10                 James 5.7-10

Another week flies by towards Christmas, and we once more hear, not from, but about John the Baptist, who is now on the way out, having proclaimed his message of repentance boldly and without swaying to the will of neither the Temple Police, of whom his father Zachary was one, nor the local Roman authorities.  Along the way, he seems to have developed a following, some suggesting he belonged to the Essenes, an ascetic hermit type group, who roughed it out in the desert and caves outside town, but nothing is too certain, except that Jesus admired him, and saw him as a forerunner to his own itinerant ministry in and around the towns and countryside of Israel at that time.  Perhaps one difference is that John stayed down by the riverside, where all sorts of people came along, out of curiosity or commitment to change in their own lives and attitudes.  On the other hand, Jesus was constantly om the move, from the start of his public ministry.

It is always easier to idealize such scenarios over 2,000 years on, but on the ground, it couldn’t have been an easy life for either prophetic voice.  It can be certain that John at no stage was looking to upstage Jesus, but very much aware of preparing the way, with his call to conversion, along with the symbolism of baptism in the River Jordan, a practice which Jesus never continued, perhaps to our surprise, given that Baptism is so much at the heart of our own Christian initiation, from earliest Christian times.

And here is John in prison, but at least allowed visitors, it would seem! The Gospels tell us that Herod was threatened by him, but didn’t really wish to do away with him, aware that this was a good and holy man, who could see through his wicked ways.  It is ironic then, that Herod is prepared to do away with him after the dance of the 7 veils, or whatever moves Salome was up to, enthralling him at the time, her devious mother in the background, pulling the strings!

Then we have the signs of prophetic promise and fulfilment in Jesus, with the promise of Isaiah being echoed in his ministry, except he leaves out the dumb speaking, but adds resurrecting the dead, and most significantly, in practical terms, good news reaching out to  the poor.  Isaiah forecasts joy and gladness overriding sorrow and lament, when the time of fulfilment comes.  Yet, don’t we know it’s not that simple, given the ups and downs, and the crosses of life which we all have to inevitably face?

Jesus’s instruction to John’s followers is to listen to his own words and watch his actions, whereby “the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised to life and Good News proclaimed to the poor”, with the call to faith in him as an ongoing mantra.  The obvious link for us is the call to be agents of this healing mission of Jesus, through our response as disciples, in extending this good news by who we are and what we do, bringing his message into reality in the world around us. It struck me, having yet another upper fang removed recently, that dental health never got a mention back then!

We have some simple examples here just this week, with our Senior Friendship Group getting back into action, and over 50 parishioners coming together to happily share a meal and hospitality offered by our parish volunteers.   Then our primary school students came over, bringing donations for those in need for the St Vincent de Paul Society members to distribute before Christmas.  It’s often the simple things that count, but it all adds up to generosity of spirit in practically bringing the Good News to others.  Thanks go to all who contributed on both occasions.

There is always more to be done to redress injustices and the life situations of those in need in our society and our world.  This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of Prime Minister  Paul Keating’s Redfern address, in which, for the first time in Australian history, a public acknowledgement was given to the terrible damage done to the Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia, as a result of ignorance, selfishness and abuse.  As a society, we are still on the road to addressing and redressing the wrongs inflicted, with a long way to go.

I quote the powerful words: “The problem starts with us. We did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases and the alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers.”  This was finally a prophetic voice in admitting much needed to be done to understand and support the indigenous people of this country.

Indigenous academic and activist Noel Pearson has just presented the 2022 Boyer lectures, wherein he call yet again for an understanding of Indigenous issues and needs.  An interesting example he gives is where it comes to literacy, and how a more practical approach needs to be made in order to ensure literacy among children in Indigenous communities, as traditional methods are not working for many. Here is just one simple example of a problem which needs to be addressed practically now and into the future, working together for the betterment of all in our society.

Recently, on 13th November, we had the 6th “World Day of the Poor” and on 3rd December “International Day of People with Disability”.  Whilst it’s good to commemorate these occasions,  it’s not enough to just acknowledge the day, without some action being taken to support those we remember in need, and contribute towards their betterment.

Jesus is to come, not as a firebrand preacher of judgment, but as a minister of healing and hope, as he reveals a God of love and mercy in and through his own person.  As a result, he tones down John the Baptist’s wild, fearful and threatening language of retribution and judgement,  to offering comfort and compassion to those who turn to him in faith, as we do now, preparing the way of the Lord as Christmas approaches or, more to the point, races in fast!

john hannon                                                                         11th  December  2022

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