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James Bond versus John the Baptist?

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Luke 3:1-6
2nd Sunday in Advent

Let me just explain the context our Bible reading before we hear it. Luke is about to write about a Jewish prophet called John the Baptist. Prophets are God’s messengers; they tell God’s people what he says they need to hear. The actual Bible passage begins with St Luke naming seven important men, an emperor and other rulers and leaders, who were around at that time, i.e. he is setting this in a factual and historical setting. Luke 3:3-6

Now when this man, John the Baptist turns up at the river Jordan preaching these words there has been a very long gap since the last prophet had appeared in Israel. A gap of 400 years in fact. This makes the recent wait of 4 years for another James Bond film seem rather paltry doesn’t it. Anyone seen Skyfall yet? Can’t show it to you – this is about as near as I can get.

Watch Heineken clip.

This latest James Bond film cost £73.4 million to make and £124.4 million to promote hence the film makers were willing to pay Heineken pay £28 million pounds to be shown in and have that connection with the film.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well as famous as Mr Bond is, or however much you might like him, it has to be said that he’s not a patch on the man who made the entire universe – Jesus.

And how did God promote/advertise His coming? You might have expected Him to have got the Roman Emperor or one of the famous rulers or leaders that were around at the time to come and do a spot of promoting the cause. Think of what its like when we are about to have an election, either in this country or in America, all sorts of stars and celebrities jostle to promote whoever they think will be the one to come and save the nation don’t they. No expense is spared is it? I know a joke that fits in with this:

While walking down the street one day a corrupt politician was tragically hit by a car and died. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St Peter at the entrance.
"Welcome to heaven," says St Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts so we're not sure what to do with you."
"No problem, just let me in," says the politician.
"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from above. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."
"Really? I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the politician.
"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."
And with that, St Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course.
In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him. Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They played a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and the finest champagne. Also present is the devil, whose really a very friendly guy, having a good time dancing and telling jokes. They’re all having such a good time that before the politician realizes it, its time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises.

Up, up, up it goes and the door reopens in heaven where St Peter’s waiting for him, "Now it's time to visit heaven." Another 24 hours pass with the politician joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone and St Peter returns.
"Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."

The politician reflects for a minute before answering: "Well, I would never have said it before, heaven has been delightful, but I think I’d be better off in hell."
St Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. When the doors of the elevator open he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up rubbish and putting it in black bags as yet more rubbish descends. The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulders.

"I don't understand," stammers the politician. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we had lobster, caviar, champagne, we danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of rubbish and my friends look miserable. What happened?"
The devil smiles at him and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning. Today, you voted."

When God was promoting Jesus He didn’t spend a penny. He sent Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist to shout about it in the wilderness. It would have to be said that John the Baptist was not the most endearing of characters. Clothed in camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey, I suspect the only place he would go down a storm is on the TV programme ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’.

Perhaps even worse, His message about having to repent of one’s sins, to a crowd of hearers who thought they were holy just because they were Jews, wasn’t going to be a piece of popular and attractive marketing either.
John said they had to turn from their sin and be baptized in order to enter the Kingdom of God, eternal life, heaven. John’s idea of Baptism was then a looking forward to the coming Messiah. Baptism now, after Christ’s fist coming, actually looks back to what Christ did for us on the cross. Paying for our sins by His death in order to give us eternal life.

John comes to tell people that in order to become part of God’s kingdom people needed to prepare their lives. He does this by quoting from the prophet Isaiah which is what we heard in our reading earlier.

When a king proposed a visit he sent a courier before him to tell them to mend and prepare their roads. John the Baptist is talking about preparing hearts and life – make our lives fit for the coming King. Spiritually speaking, Israel was living in a “wilderness” of unbelief, and the roads to spiritual reality were twisted and in disrepair. John tells them to turn away from their bad ways and turn to Christ.
The message is the same today. By preparing our hearts through prayer and bible study, through coming to church to hear the Bible explained and meeting with other Christians to gain a deeper understanding of what God is saying to us.
A deeper understanding of the Bible will tell us that heaven, thankfully, is not about floating on clouds and playing harps but will be this world renewed and restored beyond our imagination. It speaks of everywhere being made of gold and crystal, and being unimaginably beautiful.
All of this will be ours if we have come to know and accept Christ for ourselves. If we have welcomed the king in to our hearts.
Earlier I confessed to not being a James Bond fan. My sister is a great Daniel Craig fan and she won a competition to have breakfast with him in a posh London Hotel. She finds it difficult to talk about rationally because it was so exciting. My son, an entertainer, similarly works for many famous people, stars, politicians and even royalty. He finds that quite exciting too.
Me, I breakfast with Jesus on a daily basis because He lives in my heart, I find that very exciting. His invitation is always open to everyone, ‘always’ being in this life anyway. His offer has a sell-by date. We can’t decide to opt to get to know Him after we have died, by then we will most certainly be in the wrong place. It’s not like that joke, we can’t choose.

Just as John the Baptist says that it is not being part of Abraham’s family, the Jews, that puts you right with God and gives you eternal life so Baptism doesn’t either. I hope that Pippa and Sasha will one day realise that. It is not this Baptism today, which although it makes them part of the family of the church, Its not that that gives them access to heaven. That will be when, in their own hearts they meet with Christ, when they breakfast with him everyday too. Amen

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