Advent: "Up-talk"

The Revd Margaret Legg

My name’s Margaret? I’m preaching on John the Baptist this morning? But I could preach on Mary, or a miracle?

This is Up-Talk – you come to the end of what you’re trying to say and your voice rises in a kind of insecure, worrying way? So people know you’re really engaged with them and you really welcome their response. It could be considered polite, because you are acknowledging that the other may not agree and you are willing to hear that and adapt.

But what would John the Baptist think of Up-Talk? Baffled, unnecessary. Short shrift! He’s not about compromise, about adapting. 3 times he says loud and clear who he is not, He’s about keeping on message. His task was to broadcast the message of the coming of God, the divine light, in Jesus. He points the way to the divine light. He had to make it absolutely clear that he was not the light. I am not the light?

Part of pointing towards the light is preparing the way. He prepares people to face the light, to see the light, the divine light of God’s love, which is coming in the shape of Jesus. He does this symbolically by cleansing people, through the water of baptism, of all that contaminates them – clouds the light of divine love.

Advent is a time of preparation. But how do we prepare? A real question, not Up-talk because Advent is about getting ready to celebrate the first coming of Jesus and to prepare for the second coming, when we will be judged!

But what contaminates us? Why do we need a wash?

Isaiah helps: God does not love robbery, injustice wrongdoing.

It’s not that we deliberately set out to do wrong, to take part in scams. My friend was hoodwinked by a telephone bank scam last week. Even the branch don’t understand how the fraudsters managed to re-route the telephone call she made to the Help Line number printed on her debit card so it came to a fake security centre.                                                                                                   

There is a sense in which we may be unwittingly complicit in all kinds of robbery, wrongdoing and injustice. Take food for instance. supermarkets which I dare say we all frequent now and then, are, according to the report published this week by the All Party Parliamentary Enquiry into Hunger, in the habit of turning away fresh food if it the delivery arrives late (17 minutes in the case of MORRISONS and nearly 10,000 Cornish Pasties that they rejected) and if it’s too big (10 tons of tomatoes and 30,000 spring greens rejected by Tesco). Are we really so picky? With 1500 Foodbanks throughout the country, there’s something amiss.

There is an increasing fear that children are being robbed of their childhood with the focus at school increasingly on SATS, exam results and League Tables and the lure of computer games, TV and the subliminal advertising messages that come with it.  Wrongdoing to the environment, with pollution and the damage caused through diesel (once thought to be a good fuel), overuse of sprays, and chemicals.... Are are we prepared to stick our necks above the parapet and do something about cleansing the world and ourselves from what contaminates us?

To go against prevailing attitudes and cultures risks ridicule and alienation. John the Baptist was imprisoned and had his head cut off because he would not keep quiet about King Herod’s behaviour.  T‘was always so. Remember Mary Whitehouse? Back in the 70’s she was branded a blue rinse laughing stock by many, with her ‘clean up TV and 9pm watershed campaigns, yet she is now seen as the guardian of youngsters, preserving them from bad language, sex and violence. Back in the 80’s, three decades before such things were fashionable, Prince Charles, preaching the virtues of “sustainable food systems” and launching the farm-to-table food movement, was vilified as a crackpot, mocked as having been “hijacked by the Loony Green Brigade,” jeered at for placing a bottle-recycling dumpster at Buckingham Palace, yet now he’s a serious figure trying to tackle the deepest of 21st- century problems.

It begs the question for us: from what today do we need to be cleansed, in order to prepare to be ready to face the divine light when Jesus returns?  What injustices are we unwittingly caught up in? Robin’s Hot Potatoes – Charity is a very complex area, so is this week’s topic – Immigration. Slavery maybe: how certain are we that our new bag, shirt, jeans wasn’t made in a sweat shop? How carefully do we check the supply chain before we sign a business contract, or make a purchase?  The Home Office adverts just now point out that slavery could be as close as the maid next door, the guy in the car wash we pass by. Obesity: a recent count showed 1 billion are obese or overweight (and 1 billion are hungry).

One more thing – Advent preparation is not about you or me, but about God! To see clearly the wrongdoing and injustice in which we may be caught up means stepping outside ourselves, our prejudices and our conditioning, to see things as they really are. J the B, living in the wilderness,  points away from himself; towards the light of Jesus, the true light that enlightens everyone. This is the fundamental virtue of humility. Iris Murdoch wrote: ‘The humble man, because he sees himself as nothing, can see others as they are.’ By putting out the fire of our own egos and self centredness, we are better able to recognise the light in others and in other situations. To see as God meant things to be seen.

Advent is about standing apart from the crowd? About being aware and courageous?

Yes it is! No more Up-Talk. How about some Down-Talk! May we have the courage to tell it as it is as we prepare to encounter the light of Christ when he returns in glory!