Readings this week:
Isaiah 61: 1-4
John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Today’s advent ‘gift’ from God: is water.
I don’t expect any of us will find ourselves unwrapping a bottle of water this Christmas day: but we couldn’t manage long without the gift of water.
What does water mean to us? We associate water with life – growing, drinking, washing, cleansing.
We have heard in the gospel reading how John the Baptist comes baptising with water – he is offering a new start, a turning around, repentance. John offers people a new beginning – but he is clear that his role is only to start people on the path to a better life. John is the forerunner for the Lord who is to come – he is clear that what people really need is not his baptism with water, but what Jesus has to offer: a new life knowing that God is with them.
So our gift of water is only a sign of the Advent gift of life. What does this life look like?
Stop for a moment & hear the voice of John the Baptist ‘Make straight the way for the Lord!’.
What is it the Lord comes offering us? The prophet Isaiah declares:
“He has sent me to announce good news to the humble, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to those in prison.. to comfort all those who mourn.”
For the people of God at a time when their country has been invaded, their leaders have been taken captive and their sons have been slain in battle, God, through Isaiah, is offering what they most want, most need, most long for. Like water to someone dying of thirst – God offers the gift of life worth living.
When you hear these words from Isaiah you might remember, perhaps, that in Luke’s gospel these are the words with which Jesus begins his ministry, when he is about 30 years old. Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise to bring the good news of comfort, liberty and healing. Jesus brings life in all its fullness.
We might wonder just how Jesus brings us this most wonderful gift.
We might even be tempted to jump ahead from Bethlehem with its manger and stable, wise men and shepherds – to jump ahead to a time when Jesus actually does something, begins healing & teaching.
Jesus himself was to grow to be thought of as a wise man, and to refer to himself as the Good Shepherd. Is the story of the birth of Jesus anything more than a humble beginning to the story of an extraordinary life?
The story of the birth of Jesus to Mary is not only found in the gospel stories of our Bible. The Koran – the holy book of the Muslims, also tells the story of an angel appearing to Mary to tell her she was to have a special child, even though she was a virgin. But in the Islamic tradition the story goes on to describe how Mary is rejected by her village & forced to give birth alone. Mary is only believed about the angel and all that stuff, and received back into the village, when Jesus, still a babe in arms, miraculously speaks and tells the people that she is telling the truth and that he is a prophet.
There are, of course, elements which are common to this account and what we are told in the Christian gospels. But for Muslims, Jesus is a prophet and not the Son of God – as soon as he can start to prophesy he can bring truth and understanding to people, he can do God’s work on earth.
The difference for us as Christians is that who Jesus is carries more importance than what he says or does. Jesus brings God’s promises of a time of peace and gladness and love before he can do anything at all – just by being here. We tell the good news of God with us in Jesus Christ – of the divine become human and entering this world as a helpless baby.
What does it mean to say that God gives us himself in Jesus?
It means that the phrase ‘God is with us’ is so much more than an empty promise or meaningless platitude. God has come to live among us to experience and understand our human condition, and then to transform it.
The truth of God with us takes us light years away from our pre-packaged, high pressure, high-spending Christmas. What we buy, what we eat, who we see is all secondary to the fact that God has touched this earth, taken on our human life, and shown us a glimpse of his heaven, where there is healing for our wounds, comfort for our sorrow, freedom where we are trapped.
We might wonder how this happens. Is Mary really a virgin when she gives birth to Jesus? Even if Jesus is the son of Mary & Joseph, how is he also the son of God? Why is this baby the one who shows us God?
All I can say is to quote the angel when Mary protests that she cannot become pregnant “with God, all things are possible”.
We cannot know how, but we are told that God enters our world in Jesus Christ: a helpless, crumpled, human baby.
Here is the greatest gift of all – wrapped in human flesh – the God of love come to us where we are, as we are, to make us all we are made to be.
Like the water that gives us life: God’s love is here – freely available and bring refreshment, new life and a fresh start.
Thanks be to God.