Birth of S. John Baptist

The prologue of the part of the Book of Isaiah which we know as Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah because it is really a separate book by a different writer from the earlier part. It is a most beautiful and moving passage as it seeks to express the prophet's central message which is an announcement of the imminence of salvation for exiled Israel. Thus these prophecies were being made about 550 BC and are intended to encourage the exiles who are losing heart and feeling that perhaps God has succumbed to the more powerful gods of the Babylonians.

The prophet himself is a somewhat shadowy figure, his personality does not obtrude, but he does clearly identify himself with the people he is speaking to and is concerned deeply about the message he is sent to proclaim. Like most other prophets there is some sense of resistance initially. „A voice says, 'Cry out!' And I said? 'What shall I cry?' All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades .... surely the people are grass." But then he realizes, „...but the word of our God will stand for ever. " This is a precursor to one of his most significant sayings near the end of his section of the book at chap. 55 - „For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, ... so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the for which I sent it," So at the beginning, in this prologue, God says „Comfort people, the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight a way in the desert, a highway for our God. ....Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed: ' What God says is as good as done; his word guarantees performance. This is the confidence and conviction of the prophet.

There are many ways in which God has come for the deliverance of his people in the past. The Exodus from Egypt with the hope of the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses was one, the return from exile in Babylon to which Deutero-Isaiah paints this morning was another. The coming of God himself in the person of the Lord Jesus, to whom S. John Baptist points, re­calling in fact the words of Deutero-Iisaiah. In each case God's coming or parousia was a saving act of his grace; but salvation always involves judgment. There is a sense in which every grace of forgiveness or gift of love we receive is a parousia or coming of God, and there is a final parousia at a time we do not know and are not meant to know. This will be the final judgment and the establishment of God's kingdom, God's kingly rule, for the which we pray every time we say the Lord's Prayer. The people of God are many times sinners, many times forgiven, many times exiled to distant lands and many times brought back to their own by way of the desert, both physically sometimes, certainly spiritually. This is the tortured history of the covenant - whether old or new. Today the good news consoles our repentant hearts - Comfort, O comfort my people, - the Lord is about to return to judge and lead his people.

And, as S. Paul reminds us, we have been delivered in another way too from the bondage of race, of status, of gender. In baptism we are all equally one in Christ. In Christ all are children of the one God and Father: this is the foundation of the absolute equality and radical unity of human beings among themselves. This heritage was first promised by God to Abraham; Jesus now offers it to, every believer.

Today is the day an which Holy Church calls us to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist and at his birth people asked the question, „What then shall this child become?" It was a rhetorical question, an expression of awe and wonder, only time would give the answer. Of course it is a question we ask about every baby. The proud father sees him kicking his feet in the pram and suggests he may become a football player. At 2:00 a.m. when he is bawling lustily one wonders if he is developing the lungs of an opera singer. One never knows, although there are parents who try rather too hard to push in the direction of their desires. It was the circumstances of this birth that led to the question which was really an exclamation, 'What then shall this child become?' There had been a proclamation by an angel, and a miraculous pregnancy by a woman beyond her time, and a John father made speechless (and as he was a priest that was unusual), and the demand for the name which had never been used in this family before, and the father recovered his speech with the naming of the child, speaking out in words of prophecy. A child of promise indeed.

Every child is a child of promise, although not all fulfill it. We can increase the possibility by ensuring that our home is a home where Christian faith is practiced, where our example is that which we want our children to emulate. We can baptize them into the family of Christ, and we can be , part of that family with them. These values are more important than the school, the neighbourhood or the money available. And even if we feel we missed out ourselves on doing this sort of best for our own children, it is still not too late to encourage others.

John's was in fact a strange destiny. On the one hand, a saintly intolerance of the things of this world. ,, He shall drink neither wine or any strong drink." And can you imagine a Christian conference centre receiving John's application form and under the question 'any special dietary requirements' locusts lightly grilled with a side dish of wild honey? Yet, also hand in hand with this rugged austerity, an intense spiritual joy. Twice in his life he trembles with joy: in his mother's womb, when Elizabeth his mother met with Mary, the mother of the Lord; and then when as a grown man he again meets Jesus, and points to him as the Messiah of God. Until this moment, he had remained 'the voice of one crying in the wilderness', that area of spiritual warfare between a fallen world and the kingdom which is to come. In the desert regions along the Jordan, John rises up 'in the power and spirit of Elijah' as the great preacher of judgment to whom the crowds flock, to the extent that the Temple authorities become somewhat alarmed and send out a delegation to see what is going on. With his burning words and his baptism in the waters. of the Jordan, he is to bring back the children of the covenant to the Lord their God before the deluge of fire. He is therefore the great successor of Noah whose primeval judgment by water foreshadowed the final judgment and foretold the waters of baptism which are our salvation. He is in fact the last in a great series of prophets who sought to turn back God's people before the Lord's first coming.

But more than all that, John appears as the friend who brings the bride to the bridegroom, and then goes quietly away. He turns all hearts towards Jesus. Then, eager to decrease so that Jesus may increase, he chooses to be forgotten and abandoned. Is this not the holy passion which shows us the depth and extent of his faith, and perfects the identification between servant and master. Perhaps this, even more than the rigorous preaching, can be his legacy and example to us in our daily lives and walk with God.