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" Listen to the voice that liberates us".

Updated: May 12, 2023

We learn in the Gospel that John the Baptist came up against authority in the early stage of his ministry. He had already begun to preach and to baptize. The crowds were flocking to him.

As so often is the case, he began to appear as a threat to the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees. So, they sent a delegation to ask him: "Who are you? Who do you think you are?" John refused to give them a straight answer. This was his response to those who were trying to pull rank on him.

He could have answered them simply...'I'm John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. I live at ... wherever. For a living I do... this or that job. I've spent a number of years alone in the wilderness training for this task.' But that would have been instantly submitting to this somewhat illegitimate authority. So, John skipped that part and instead went straight to the concerns behind the question. "Don't worry," he said (in effect). 'I'm not the Christ, I'm no threat to your high office.'

Unhappy with his response they said: "Well who are you then? Are you Elijah, the one who's expected to return to announce the coming of the N1essiah?" "No, I'm not him either." Although John models himself after Elijah, in the way that he dresses, and in his familiarity with the wilderness. Though it seems John never directly thought of himself as some sort 0f reincarnation of Elijah.

"Well, are you the Prophet, then? The one spoken about in the book of Deuteronomy and mentioned in the writings of the Essenes, the Dead Sea sect?" "No, I'm not the prophet." "Who are you then? Just what authority do you have for coming out here and preaching?

John describes himself in tem1s of his vocation (his calling). In the way he feels God has called him. "I'm a voice," he says. He's a voice for God. And he goes on to identify himself with Isaiah's prophesy, as "the one who has come to prepare the way." His Response is dismissed. There not interested in scriptural quotes. They're after something else. So, they pursue the question of authority: "If you don't even claim to be someone special, what do you think you're doing baptizing? What gives you the right to baptize?" And John uses this as an opportunity to witness to the coming Christ. To slip in a word or two about the momentous importance of the one who is to come. The Judaean priests and Levites who the Evangelist says came out to confront John the Baptizer wanted nothing to upset the stability, the familiarity of their lives organized around traditional temple worship. They had invested heavily in their traditions. That's why John was so threatening to the powers that be. If John was chosen by God, things were going to change. They didn't want anything to change; they wanted things to stay exactly as they were. However, changelessness is not what God is about. Hear it again from Isaiah: "I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating." Sometimes, we don't like hearing those words, so we close our ears, and as a result we don't really hear God. But Remember the Voice: The voice that moved John to proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ. His voice is a gift given directly from God. Our voice is given to us by way of the Holy Spirit. A voice that is calling us to be part of the new heavens and the new earth.

But What Does That Mean: Paul's call to the Church at Thessalonica holds the people to the Baptist's call, too: Help the weak, do not repay evil for evil, seek to do good to all, hold fast to what is good. If we make our place in an established order, if we are secure in our darkness, we can understand the fears of the Thessalonians. Not much has changed in two thousand years. But that voice calls our spirits, souls, and bodies to prepare the way of the Lord in a life of Christian service.

Often Christian Service, vocation, the voice.... comes to us under conditions

that may seem to disrupt life, progress, and growth -- a sickness, a death, a layoff. Crises like these, crises of our personal and professional lives, are the points at which our Christian life begins, or begins again.

The greatest thing we can do is to respond to a voice that calls us out of our complacency; it's a step that takes us out of our self - centered worlds. The things we fear in life are quite likely to happen to us, but they are nothing to be afraid of. We are all representatives of God in this world.

For a Christian, crisis can be a time of Transformation. Consider the lives of the saints; consider Paul and the Baptist. They engaged in God's plan -­ fearfully, no doubt, but they had enough courage, initiative, and endurance to love God more than fear God. They knew that they were finite and dependent on a power far greater than themselves. However, they heed the call and became the voice who would rescue souls from their complacent existence.

What we must do is to Listen to the voice that liberates us.

When we find that voice, transformation begins. A kind of inner authority appears. The sort of authority which develops within a person as a result of deep experience. It can be sensed whenever you're with that person. And yes, it can be feared or regarded as a threat by those in positions of power. This was the kind of authority exercised by both John the Baptist, and by Jesus. Neither of whom had positions of power, and both possessed immense inner authority. The sort of authority which comes directly from God.

When human authority and inner authority are in conflict problems arise. Both John the Baptist and Jesus discovered that. They both gave their lives rather than deny their inner authority. Often this sort of firm choice confronts those who exercise inner authority. In our society they may not be asked to forfeit their physical life, but they may well be condemned and disgraced.

The easiest path in life is to never exercise any inner authority at all. If we assume that human authority is always right, we'll never need to challenge. We'll never have to stand up and be counted. We'll never have to face the unpleasantness of being in a minority situation.

And we'll never have to do very much, because it'll always be somebody else's job, somebody else's responsibility. They ought to do this, that and the other, but not me. It's up to them. However, it's not like that for Christians. Because we all have inner authority. We too have a John the Baptist like role. We're also supposed to be advance persons for Jesus. We all have the responsibility of ensuring as much as we can, that our society maintains Christian values. Advent is the time of the arrival of God, through His Son, into our human environment, into our very personal lives. It is that 'mysterious' time of the year when we recognize the tension between what already is and what is yet to be; between what we are and what we are capable of; between what has been accomplished and what remains unfinished in our lives. It has been said, 'Happiness is something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.' If you and I can dedicate ourselves to making the lives of others better than they once were, giving love to the loveless, and being loved in return, and if we can live each day fully in the Presence of Christ, or rather with His Presence reaching and touching others through us, than we are tn1ly blessed.

We all have the opportunity to become transformed, liberated by listening to the voice (that inner authority given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit). We all have the opportunity to bring the world to God and prepare the way for the king of kings, the ultimate authority.... Jesus Christ. And we've all been given different and complementary talents in order to pass on the Christian message. We need to develop those talents to their fullness; so that if somebody says: "Who are you?" to the voice (that inner authority given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit). Like John the Baptist, we will be able to reply, from our inner authority, and in terms of our vocation. Our calling from God.

A Prayer to God who is the Ultimate Authority

Let us Pray:

Dear God, help us to unravel the unfathomable. Help us to see our way straight so that we cease to use authority as an excuse to take no action or thought whatsoever. Give us the courage to express our views and feelings, even if we have to stand alone against the full weight of human authority.

We ask this through the One who had the courage to lay down his life for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

For Morning Prayer on the Third Sunday in Advent Published on December 12th,1999 {Revised on August 21st, 2021}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2021

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