John The Baptist, June 24, 2018
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was a child, back in the 60â€™s you had the â€œHippiesâ€ or â€œFlowerâ€ children as they were called. They were primarily young people who went against the norm or custom of the time and considered themselves anti-establishment. They used bold and bright colors and painted peace symbols and flowers all over the place.
My older brother was a hippie. He had long hair, a mustache, and a beard, wore wildly colored clothes and a Nehru jacket.
From hippies, you often heard the phrase, â€œPeace man!â€ From my perspective as a child, they were not normal. They really stood out from the crowd. They were not self-centered but looked to the betterment of the world for all people. They certainly were different.
Today we remember John the Baptist. John was the hippie of his day. He stood out from the crowd in many ways. He wore rough clothing made out of camelâ€™s hair,Â ate locusts and wild honey, and he lived roughly out in the wilderness. His message,Â too, was counter-cultural.
Now John is said to have been a part of a commune called the Essenes. They were another sect of Judaism along with the Pharisees and Sadducees.
They lived austere lifestyles, doing much prayer and fasting. They lived a meager lifestyle, had few possessions, and lived frugally. The Essenes awaited Godâ€™s promised Messiah. The Essenes are famous today because of their library being discovered in the caves at Qumran in 1942. I think we have all heard of their library, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In todayâ€™s gospel, we have the story of Johnâ€™s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are old. Past childbearing age. They never were able to have children.
Zechariah is a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. And when his section is on duty, he sees an angel who tells him not to be afraid and then goes on to tell him that what he thought was impossible, God will make possible. His wife is to bear a son, and they are to name him John. He is to be dedicated to the Lord. The child will be filled with the Holy Spirit. And will turn people towards God. Zechariah doubts what he is told and is struck mute. He remains that way until the child is born and about to be circumcised.
They were going to name him after his father, but Elizabeth says â€œno, his name is John.â€ Then they ask Zechariah, who writes for them the name â€œJohn.â€ Immediately his mouth is opened, and he begins to speak. In the passage that follows, Zechariah proclaims Godâ€™s grace and favor, but he also makes it clear as to what Johnâ€™s role will be.
John will be the forerunner, â€œprophet of the Most High,â€ the one who comes ahead of Godâ€™s chosen and gets the world and people ready for him. With John, God is ushering in a new era. The era of the Messiah. Johnâ€™s role is to prepare for his coming, by getting the people to stop looking backward and to start looking to the future, to something new. Something new that comes from God in the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior.
John encouraged people to look to the future to something new, in much the same way the hippies pushed our society to stop looking backward to what was and to look to the future to what can be, and what may be. He knew that he would not likely be around to see Jesusâ€™ mission and ministry come to fruition. He knew that it was not about him, but about God saving the world. It was not about him, but about the coming Savior.
It is difficult for any of us not to look back. We remember with fondness our growing up years, the way things were back then and so much would like to relive those happy, golden days. But the message of the gospel is clear. Stop looking back. Look ahead to what God is doing next. Itâ€™s not about any of us, but about what God is doing in Jesus, and in us. Across all aspects of society and across all aspects of our lives, it is not about us. It is about Godâ€™s will for the world that he created and for his creatures.
It is about following no one else, other than our Lord Jesus Christ and his mission for the world and for all people. Jesus Christ to whom we owe everything. To God the author and giver of life, the world and everything else. Look ahead. God is calling you forward in faith.