Luke 3:3-6,10-14,21-22

2nd Sunday of Epiphany

St Barbara’s All Age Service 13.01.19

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Do any of you ever have parcels delivered to your house when you are not in? Often the delivery man leaves them with a neighbour. When your neighbour rings up and says they have your parcel and can they just bring it round do you suddenly clean the house, polish the front door, put on some smart clothes? No – of course not! Its just the neighbour from next door dropping off a parcel.

Or how about if a friend is popping round, like they do every week, either for an after-school playdate, or if they are a bit older, for a cup of tea and a chat. Do you tidy up the whole house before they come, spring clean every room, wash the net curtains. No – not normally. You may make sure things aren’t a total mess, but after all, its just a friend popping in.

Now imagine you get a phone call from Buckingham Palace to say that the Queen will be coming to see you next month. My guess is that some jobs that you have been meaning to do for a while but just haven’t quite got round to doing – the removing of cobwebs in the porch, the descaling of the kettle, the fixing of that wobbly chair – will suddenly assume high priority. You may even decide to give every room a fresh lick of paint, even put a new toilet seat in the bathroom.

When someone important comes its important to be ready.

Well, in the days of John the Baptist nobody was more important than the Messiah, the person who would come to lead Israel out of the doldrums into a glorious future. John was telling everybody, “This person is coming. So get ready!”

One of the ways in ancient times that people got ready for a coming king or emperor was to make the road they travelled on as smooth as possible. To fill in all the pot-holes; to damp down all the dust. Even to build bridges over valleys so the travelling king wouldn’t have to wind their way down a steep hillside and up the other side; to carve cuttings through the hillsides so that the king wouldn’t have to exert time and energy climbing over the tops.

Its like motorways or dare I say it, high speed rail lines, today. To make journeys as smooth and as fast as possible, bridges are built, hillsides are lowered. The routes are made as straight as possible. In the words of Isaiah: “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.”

The point is, John was saying, that someone is coming who is so important, so special, everyone needs to get themselves ready. But how?

John’s answers are surprisingly straight-forward. If you have more clothes than you need, share with the person who has nothing. If you have plenty of food to eat, share with someone who doesn’t.

Even in our own city of Coventry, there are people who don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We heard just before Christmas of the need for bedding, as some people don’t have sheets to sleep in. We know that the numbers of people accessing Foodbanks is rising significantly, a lot down to the problems around the roll-out of universal credit. There are many housebound, who can’t afford to heat their homes.

John’s words are very simple. How do we get ready to follow Jesus? By doing something for those in need.

And he goes on to say, if you are doing a job, do it fairly and honestly. Don’t look to take advantage of others or exploit people going through hard times. That was true of tax collectors and soldiers in John’s day, it remains true in many different ways today. Last month I was talking to someone who works for a big company and he has had to fight with his finance department to get them to pay invoices to smaller firms on time, rather than just delaying and delaying, and putting those companies in problems. Its why the Church of England is right to challenge pay-day loan companies such as Wonga. Its why at school or work, if we see someone being treated unfairly, we should stand up for them.

How do we get ready to follow Jesus? Simple. We share with others and we care for those in need. What can each of us do this week?

When we are thanked or praised we can be encouraged. When we are thanked or praised by someone we respect – our boss maybe, or a family member, or a neighbour – that’s even more encouraging. And its even more special when you are being told “well done” not for a thing that you have done, but for the person you are. When people recognise not just a one-off achievement, but the fact that the person you are is worth celebrating.

So imagine what it must have been like for Jesus, when God spoke those words: “You are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

John the Baptist had said some pretty amazing things about Jesus, but here was God himself affirming and praising Jesus.

And Jesus hadn’t yet started his ministry – there was nothing that he had yet “done”. God was just delighted in who he was.

Its a sign, one of those epiphany moments, when we see just how special Jesus is, when our eyes are opened to seeing that he is God’s Son and is worthy of his love.

But the remarkable thing is that because of all that Jesus made possible through his death and resurrection, when we follow him, God says the same words over us: “You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Those words become true for each one of us too.

We are children who God loves. He delights in us. If your first reaction is to to think “God can’t possibly delight in me. I’m not worthy of his love”, you are both right and wrong. Right to believe that it is something totally extraordinary, almost unbelievable. But wrong to believe that God is not capable of something so extraordinary.

Remind yourself each day: “You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”