Monday 7th December This is the Record of John
Today’s reading is set as a canticle for morning prayer meaning Zechariah’s prophecy over John the Baptist became known in the Church. John the Baptist went ahead of Jesus to prepare the way, Orlando Gibbon’s anthem shows John’s conflict with the authorities.
St Luke 8: 68-79
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
This is the Record of John
You can hear This is the Record of John sung here
This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not, and said plainly, I am not the Christ.
And they asked him, What art thou then? Art thou Elias? And he said, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No.
Then said they unto him, What art thou? that we may give an answer unto them that sent us. What say’st thou of thyself? And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. John 1 vv. 19–23
‘Making straight the way of the Lord’ sounds good, good, but is actually difficult. I was first alerted to this in a sermon by Susan Durber, and the thoughts in this reflection are entirely hers.
The metaphor of straight as good and crooked as bad is well grounded in our subconscious and our language. We talk of being straightforward and straight talking, and about crooks and bending the truth. It’s little wonder that John the Baptist wanted to prepare a straight path for God. But did God really intended the fells of Cumbria, the Brecon Beacons, and the highlands of Scotland to become flat and uniform? Can it be that God actually wanted to destroy what God had created? Perhaps the straightest way isn’t always the best. The hero in the story is always straight and square-shouldered, whereas the villain is a misshapen ogre. The dragon curls and writhes, while George stands straight and tall.
It isn’t true that people with twisted bodies are less good than those with more perfect bodies. Humans don’t come in straight lines. We can’t be pressed into shapes we don’t have. Souls don’t easily conform to set measurements. Teardrops can only be curved, and so can smiles.
Life, if not always success, lies not in straight lines, but along a circuitous route. It is easy for us think that we have to perfect, to do everything right, well and on time. It feels like we’ll never smooth out the bumps in life. It’s true that we won’t. We won’t make the road of our life perfectly straight, but the good news is that we don’t have to. Because even though people weren’t yet ready, even though the wilderness was as messy as ever, even though there was as much struggle, selfishness, fighting and hunger as there had ever been, God doesn’t wait for everything to be ready before God can come – God comes anyway.
God of the wilderness way,
whose Word scours our evasions:
take us on the narrow, winding, path
to the centre of our world
with a cry of invitation
and the call of your sudden grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.