14 December 2014John 1:6-8, 19-28
“This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’” (vv. 19-22)
Psalm: Psalm 126
One of the age-old problems when people turn up with an unexpected message is that, instead of paying attention to what's being said, those who hear frequently ask: "Who do you think you are?"
Dr Who has a neat trick. His ID card is a bit of psychic paper, which means you see what your mind tells you to see. It is always possible, as happened on a recent episode, that you have such a "highly unimaginative mind", you spot it's actually blank!
When John the Baptist turned up, using words from Jewish prophets to tell them the Messiah was coming, the religious leaders sent people to spy on him. Inevitably, they wanted to know "who are you?".
John assured them he was not the Messiah; not Elijah reborn - a fondly-held Jewish belief; not a new Moses to lead the people. In fact, John said, I'm just a voice, but a voice you need to listen to.
John the Baptist was in the middle of a campaign getting everything straightened out for Jesus to begin his ministry on earth. He was preaching, baptizing and warning people that, in the words of a past US President: "You ain't seen nothing yet."
But, as the writer of the Gospel tells us, it was also the opening shots in a battle that goes all the way to the cross and beyond. John the writer - a different John - says that the Baptist's interrogators come from "the Jews".
The writer doesn't mean they represent the whole nation. He uses the phrase to talk about the Pharisees and other religious rulers, who had most to lose from a maverick preacher whose words and actions could rile the occupying Roman forces. There was an uneasy peace and the Jewish religious leaders were only allowed their position at the whim of Rome.
Too much unrest and it could be taken away.
If a new, and as yet unidentified, somebody was already in their midst but unrecognised, they could make life very uncomfortable.
- How comfortable are we when people want to discuss issues of faith with us? Why do you think that might be?
- What ways can we make it easier for people to recognise God present among us?