Advent Reflections 2020 – Day 15


Advent 2020 – St John The Baptist

By Rick Simpson, Archdeacon of Auckland – Please Share Widely

I don’t find John the Baptist easy.

And, let’s face it, if you or I walked through the Market Place in Durham, and someone was there with long hair, eating a packet of honey-roasted locusts, shouting, “Repent – God is much closer than you realise!” – well, we’d probably avoid eye-contact, and hurry on.

As we all know, some religious people are strange. If you don’t believe me Google the words “weird religion” for two minutes.

Are you back? See – told you.

And John the Baptist seems weird.

What’s more, I’m wary of people who think they are prophets. There are plenty of them, ready to shout at other people about those other people’s sins and how they need to repent. Especially, these days, if such self-appointed prophets use social media to do their shouting, they’re usually well worth avoiding.

But … the thing about John is that he was actually onto something. He was weird, but he was right. And we know that not so much because of John himself but because of Jesus: the one John pointed to turned out to be God with us, perfectly loving and just.

I don’t find John the Baptist easy, but then I am not meant to.

Now, thank God that our faith does not stop with John. I do not earn my way to a relationship with God by the quality or endurance of my repenting. No, John points to Jesus, where I find grace.

And without John’s message, I might think that grace is easy, and that’s a mistake.

John helps me see that I need Christ.

There are many ways I am a long way from how I should be, how I should live. I have these crazy notions that my money is my own, not God’s, and that it’s fine for me to have 2, 3, 7 coats when others have none. I’m deeply selfish. I often don’t seem to care very much about what God wants. And in the preparation for Christmas, John’s challenge comes to me – just as it came to people as a preparation for Jesus’ ministry the first time around: I need to turn around.

In this I’ll fail, of course. But if I listen to John, I will see how much I need the grace that Christ brings, and I will then appreciate that grace when it comes, and it won’t be easy or cheap grace any more.


I often come back to two lines of George Herbert’s:


Who in heart not ever kneels,

Neither Sinne nor Saviour feels.

I need to hear the Baptist’s challenge, and let it bring me to my knees in penitence. And then, when Christ comes, I’ll be ready to welcome him as my Saviour, because now I know I need him.

Who in heart not ever kneels,

Neither Sinne nor Saviour feels.

I don’t find John the Baptist easy, but he shows why Christmas matters.


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