St Francis, Terriers - Advent 2  (10.12.2017) Tony Dickinson

It’s going to be all right! That’s what our two readings from the Bible are saying today. However rough, however difficult things are, it’s going to be all right!

But (you’re probably thinking) it doesn’t look like that. Wherever we look, it’s all an enormous mess. Did you see those pictures from California on the TV News? All those trees, all those houses on fire. Have you heard what’s been happening in Israel and Palestine? People are getting hurt. The world is a frightening place – very frightening sometimes.

But we have been promised: it’s going to be all right. Yes, things do look dreadful. Yes, we can see all kinds of nasty things lurking in the shadows. The question we have to ask, though, is “what is the lens through which we’re looking at them?”

To try to show you what I mean, I’ve brought a rather special set of lenses with me this morning. Can anyone tell me what they are? They are binoculars – a sort of small telescope in stereo. These binoculars were my father’s. They were part of his kit when he was in the Army during the Second World War – and they were a very important part of his kit. In order to do his job properly, he had to be able to see a long way. It was important for the safety of his own unit, and for the units he was working alongside. He needed to know what that dark splodge was on top of the hill over there. He needed to see it clearly. And he needed to see clearly how to get there. I need a little help for the next bit. Any volunteers?

So he had to make sure that lenses in his binoculars were properly focused so that he could see clearly. He didn’t want to make everything look very big: and he didn’t want to make everything look very small. He had to turn this focus control until everything in his field of view was as sharply in focus as he could make it. Can you do that? How sharp can you make that carving of Jesus?

Now, what John the Baptist was doing in this morning’s gospel was to get people to sharpen their focus on the world – and on themselves. He wanted them to take a good look at who they were and what they were doing and to refocus their lives. That’s what he meant when he told the crowds to “repent”. Sharpen your focus: look at yourselves clearly. Look at the gunge you’ve stored up in your life-time, all that failure, all the things you’ve done wrong, the times you’ve been horrid to people. Take it seriously. Don’t try to look at it through the wrong end of the binoculars, so that it all looks tiny and far away. Take it seriously: but don’t worry about it. Wash it away in the waters of the river –there’s nothing like a good symbolic action to mark a new beginning. Wash it away. Look at yourself clearly. Look at God clearly. Look at God clearly and see how much God loves you.

You don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. You simply have to accept it, to let it enfold you, to understand that you are already forgiven and to allow God’s glory to be revealed in you. That is the message of the prophet. That is the message of John the Baptist. God comes to us, along that road that has been prepared. God comes to us in Jesus, the one to whom John pointed, the Word who stands forever. Jesus is the lens through which we can see God’s world clearly. He shows us, sharply, how great God’s love is. He gathers us in his arms. He cleanses us. He feeds us with his own life and pours into our hearts the gift of the Spirit. That’s how we know that it’s going to be all right.