Clive and I went to see this sculpture of John the Baptist by Donatello while we were in Florence. We’d been a few years previously. We appreciated the ragged, austerity of him – but he certainly wasn’t someone to meet on a dark night! He was definitely someone who was different – out on the edge of things…
As we left the museum, having agreed where we were going next, Clive turned one way and I the other. We stopped. Something had happened! Since our last visit, Clive had had a stroke and this was one of the early realisations that things had changed for us. Clive had always been our sense of direction. I relied on him and he was confident. Now, suddenly, we discovered that we couldn’t do that anymore. We both lost confidence in his sense of direction.
We all need a sense of direction - to know who we are and where we’re going.
Here - at the start of this reading – Luke tells us where and when we are. He sets the scene. Here are the political top brass and here the ”spiritual” ones - all jostling for / holding on to power. And, in the midst of all these, who does God pinpoint to speak His message?
· Son of Zechariah – yes, that Zechariah who found it hard to believe God’s messenger
· In the wilderness – not in the temple.
Of course, John himself must have been prepared because there he was, in the right place.
Had Zechariah and Elizabeth instilled into him the role he was to play when the time was ripe? Can’t you imagine Zechariah telling his son that he was made for great things? Whilst he himself had taken a while – and some persuasion – to believe God’s message, maybe he was careful about how he explained his role to John. Can’t you hear his parents? “Son, you are different from other boys. God has a plan for you. You’re special – and you are going to prepare people for someone even more special.” (Strains of Handel’s “Messiah” fill the air – “the crooked straight and the rough places plain”) Would they have told him about the angel’s message? They’d had their instructions (Luke 1vv15-17) -
He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born …..he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah —to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Surely God’s Spirit would prepare him, as he was to prepare others. It says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born and that God’s word came to him in the wilderness. Had the passage from Isaiah shown him where he must be and what he must be doing? He was to be “the voice”. Would anyone come to hear what he had to say anyway – out there in the middle of nowhere? Would God provide? It seems he simply followed God’s instructions and left the rest to Him.
I wonder how easy it was for John to be different – someone living on the edge of things.
As we see him here, John certainly has his sense of direction. He knew who he was and what he was meant to be doing. Here was John the Baptist preaching out in the wilderness – shades of Elijah!
What did people think of him? Was he an oddity? Was he regarded as a wise man – or a crank?
Were they reminded of what they’d heard of Elijah and therefore considered him to be holy and powerful? Amazingly, people took him seriously. They responded to him. He continued being The Voice.
I suddenly realised what an important passage this is for BURGers! It’s easy for people to poke fun when you talk about going on retreat. “Running away again?!” Maybe it happened to John! Being where you know God wants you to be and being ready to listen for Him and do what He wants has to be the most important thing in life. But it is living on the edge, for you don’t know what to expect.
Recently, I was reminded of the words, “Fan into flame the gift of God that is in you”. (2 Tim. 1v6)
As we get older, maybe we feel “the gift” is no longer there. Our prayer has to be that we know who we are and what our directions are for here and now.
Heavenly Father, please grant me your revelation for this day.
Remind me who I am and what You want me to do.
I pray that Your Holy Spirit will be my guide and strength and great Director.