Sunday 16 December - Advent 3 - Eucharist - Rosie Addis

Good news. We say it a lot. The Gospel. The Good News. Especially at this time of year. Joy to the world. Tidings of peace and goodwill to all. It all sounds quite cosy. Very hygge. We know the script, don’t we? The first sighting of the double issue Radio Times, carols from Kings, preparation for family visits, expectation …. And then the media play out the script – family arguments, overeating, too much to drink, boredom … New Year preparations, Hogmany celebrations, resolutions, endless reviews of the year, shiny 2019, fireworks … and then back to work, dieting, dark mornings, icy roads, no money, politics, the economy …. January and February blues.

Is that it? Is that really the Good News we’ve bought into?

To which John the Baptist would have had something to say …. ‘You brood of vipers!’

Uncomfortable words. Oh, easy enough when they are aimed at others – those children of Abraham. Yes, please do go ahead and shock others. Feel free to confront and challenge others. But me? I do not come to church to be offended, shocked, or challenged. I quite like buying into the cosy script that’s playing out all around me. Even if it doesn’t ultimately satisfy. A baby in a manger. A good example for us all. Good news. Peace to all.

Which is all very well. Of course, I would love to buy into it all that and leave it there. I really am the kind of person who likes a quiet life and to be liked by all. But the problem is that the word – Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – is actually shocking. A challenge.

Luke is a careful writer. He’s not flinging words onto the page. He’s planned out his narrative and this is a carefully constructed message. There is a purpose in John calling out from his place in the wilderness – there’s an emphasis that John was expecting God to break into the world at any moment (thanks Paula Gooder!).

Think about the number of stories in the Old Testament where God meets with the people in wilderness places. Luke is saying to the reader, ‘Listen up! Get ready to read my story in the right way. This is going to challenge you; shock you; pull the rug out from under your feet. And, ironic as it seems, it’s Good News!’

And it seems that the people know that something needs to change. There are crowds coming out to be baptised by John. Well, maybe you can understand the Gentiles – the non-Jews – wanting to be baptised to ‘get in’ on whatever’s happening. But Jewish people had no traditional need of baptism – their birth into the club had put them into a right relationship with Yahweh, the LORD. So why were they now rushing to get baptised? What new thing was this?

And from John’s teaching there’s a hint of the scandal that this new thing will bring. Even tax collectors came to be baptised – surely God couldn’t forgive their sins! And the teaching is that they are to voluntarily surrender their status and make themselves look weak and stupid. I mean really – only collect the stated amount owed!!

And soldiers – what respect would you get as law enforcers in an occupied land if you’re polite to those you’re controlling?

And yet … and yet doesn’t it begin to sound like good news?

And what if that God is the same God today? Still working in the world?

And what if you did have clergy who were prepared to challenge and be challenged, to shock and be shocked, in the name of the Good News of Jesus Christ?

What if we could rise above the seeming pre-destined Christmas and New Year script? To change our perspective in line with a Saviour who is still breaking in and working in us and in the world? And to use that new perspective to think and pray and get involved in the ‘big stuff’ – politics, the economy, environmental issues, poverty, Brexit. But not in the way that others might expect. Perhaps saying and doing things that challenge and shock, and doing them in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ. Going off-script to experience life in all its fullness?

That, I think, would indeed be good news.