On Saturday December 13th I went with my neighbour Maria and her daughters and a friend to Leeds to the Grand Theatre to see Peter Pan. We had a meal before the show in a local Chinese restaurant, where they used chopsticks. Having no skill with such implements I was relieved that I was able to use a spoon and fork to enjoy the selection her Chinese friend chose for us. It seemed to be very good and it was lovely to enjoy cups of delicious green tea to complement the meal. The production of Peter Pan was very good. I especially enjoyed seeing the lovely dog, Nanna and the tick tocking crocodile. The ballet was well done and enjoyable. It was the first time I had seen a ballet of Peter Pan. The Northern ballet company is a delight to see. Fortunately the show did not finish late so we were home just after 10pm.
On Sunday December 14th Helen Lunn led worship at Wesley Chapel. It was her first service as a fully accredited local preacher! The third candle was lit for Joy in the Advent Candle liturgy. We have joy in God and his son Jesus Christ; the joy like hope and peace is a gift from God. We feel this joy when we remember what God has done for us and what he has promised to do. We are reminded as we light the candles that Christ came and is coming so that people might have a rich and abundant life. We sang the verse,
‘A candle is burning, a candle of joy.
A candle to welcome brave Mary’s new boy.
Our hearts fill with wonder, eyes light and glow
As joy brightens winter like sunshine on snow.
Worship led by Helen began as we sang Stephen’s favourite Advent hymn, ‘O come, O come Emmanuel.’ After Helen led the prayers we sang, ‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’, a favourite worship hymn of mine. The reading from the Old Testament was from Isaiah 61v1-4, 8-11 and the gospel reading was from John 1v6-8 and 19-28 describing John the Baptist. We then sang, ‘Lord thy church on earth is seeking’ before the sermon.
John the Baptist emphasised that he was not the greatest person. He was very popular so the people thought he might be the expected saviour, or a great prophet like Elijah, but he was quick to explain that he was just preparing the way for the man who was coming, Jesus. In the synagogue Jesus read out some words from Isaiah of the good news that the oppression, captivity and devastation of the people was coming to an end. The children and grandchildren of those in exile would return. Life was hard but there was a call for confidence in God. John’s mission was set in the context of light and darkness; John was not the light but had come to prepare the way for the light. There was an emphasis on who John was not, not who he was. As in Isaiah John cried in the Wilderness but he was not Elijah or prophet, he was just the forerunner giving testimony to the one who was yet to come. He rejected all the labels the people tried to give him. Do we accept labels given to us? Helen was called ‘Concorde’ because her nose is large. I was called, ‘dirty Gertie’ as a child because of my middle name, Gertrude; I would have preferred the shortening, ‘Trudy!’ What do we say about ourselves? How can we trust someone? The people wanted to know more about John so they wanted to give him a recognisable label.
Are we creditable witnesses to Christ? The priests and Levites were sent to ask who John was. As children we do as our parents want; however we rebel as teenagers as we try to find our voice. In the TV series the Voice, the judges have their backs to the contestants and have to make their decisions based on the voice alone. How do we make our true identity known? We need to find a voice to stand up for what is important. For example the welfare reforms are a scandal affecting the poor and vulnerable most. We need to have a voice to speak against the scandal of child sexual abuse.
John prepared the way and radiated strength with authority. John did not see himself as a prophet; he was outside the system preparing the way for the one who was to come. We like John are called to point the way to the Light of Christ as John had been the witness to the light. John was a threat to power as our protestors and whistle blowers are today. Herod was afraid of him. Who is John today? He is the one stands up for justice and care and love for the needy and all who need the full abundant life Jesus offers. Most of us are ordinary people who are called to point the way to Jesus. We can all resolve to do one good deed in the coming week to help the needy and make a difference.
We sang, ‘I cannot tell why he whom angels worship’ before Helen led the prayers of intercession and the Lord’s Prayer. Worship concluded as we sang, ‘God’s spirit is in my heart.’