A Vicar had just conducted his final service and was bidding 'goodbye' to his congregation. An old lady thanked him profusely and then said that she had never really known what sin was until he had come to the Parish.
One of the problems of this job is that people often compare us with our predecessor(s), often unfavourably !
John the Baptist was under no illusion about his ministry which, whilst important, was preparatory and inferior to that of Jesus.
John was a great man. The last of the Old Testament style prophets. His birth was miraculous. He lived in the wilderness simply, eating locusts and wild honey. He was outspoken and courageous. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "generation of vipers," and warned them of the folly of trusting to external privileges (Luke 3:8). He warned publicans against extortion, the soldiers against crime and plunder. He denounced Herod for taking his wife, Herodias, from his brother Philip. This led to his imprisonment and death. He fulfilled the ministry that God had given him which was predicted over 700 years before John was asked by the Jewish leaders if he was the Christ, or anointed one from God. There was great expectation at this time that the Christ would come, but John said he was not. He was asked if he was Elijah or 'the prophet'. Elijah did not die and it was believed that he would return to announce the end times. John said that he was not Elijah although, elsewhere ( Matthew 11:14, 17:10-13 Luke 1:17 ) Jesus said that John came in the spirit and power of Elijah.
"The Prophet' was predicted in deut 18:15 and looked to a prophet like Moses who would lead God's people in anew Exodus, defeating their enemies. John said that he was not.
23: He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
We have just had a JCB digger preparing the ground at the back of the Rectory for a house to be built there. They levelled the ground and dug trenches for the foundations. A bulldozer levels ground. John was levelling the ground in preparation for Jesus.
This involved baptizing thousands who had repented of their sins. Baptism was, up until then, administered to Gentiles to admit them into the Jewish faith. So it required some humility for Jews to submit to this because it was a declaration that they were not part of God's people.
Some time ago Joshua enjoyed watching the 'World's Strongest Man' television programme. This involved huge men doing various feats to show how strong they were. One of these was often towing a large vehicle, like a lorry or aircraft along a course.
Until Jesus came people had that type of task. But when Jesus came he brought a new power to enable people to live for God.
The baptism of John was a symbol of the spiritual cleaning that Jesus would bring. But John couldn't give people the power to live a new life of obedience to God and he couldn't earn the forgiveness that people needed for their past sins. This is why he said, 26: John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; 27: He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
Disciples would perform all sorts of service for their rabbis (teachers), but loosing sandal thongs was expressly excluded. The lowliest slave had the job of loosening people's sandals as they came in from the filthy streets immediately before they had their feet washed. John said that he was not even worthy to do this for Jesus.
This baby whom we celebrate in two days time is the greatest human being that ever walked this planet. He was born to die on the cross, something that we celebrate and proclaim later in this service. On the cross Jesus took the punishment that we deserve for our sins (define). He never sinned but took the punishment for the sins of the world do that people would be free from separation from God and free to live for God. He sent his Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin and need to turn to Christ. He sent his Spirit to give people the power to live for Jesus, the gifts to minister in Jesus' name, and the fruit to make us more like Jesus.
Jesus is Lord of everything and everyone. John the Baptist pointed to him, even though he was unworthy. We, too, are unworthy, but Christ has made us worthy through his death and resurrection. By His Spirit He has given us all we need to serve and follow Him.
This Christmas and into 2002 let us point to him, worship, adore and follow him so that he may be glorified and people brought into his kingdom.