2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


Sermon Ideas For John 1:6-8, 19-28 Part 3

G. K. Chesterton once said "The world will never starve for wonders; but only for want of wonder." John the Baptist's ministry to the people of Israel is a ministry of wonder: who is coming? what is he like? how will we know him? John the Baptist is a forerunner of the Messiah. Forerunners play a critical role in significant events. Without the forerunner, plans fall apart and strategies run amok.

Several years ago the movie Gallipoli offered a poignant and tragic look at the importance of messengers who run ahead with crucial news. Two Australian soldiers who were great runners and fast friends were part of the attack on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey during the first World War. They were "runners" who carried instructions from the military decision-makers to the front lines. Many lives depended upon the success of their "running" the news quickly and accurately to the soldiers facing battle. Through a quirk of circumstance, the slower of the two boys served as forerunner for the attack on Gallipoli, and history records the battle as one of the costliest and bloodiest defeats for the allies in that war.

John the Baptist is a forerunner of the Messiah, heralding hope and wonder which approach in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. He heightens anticipation through his preaching, and sets the stage for the great drama which is about to begin. Wendell Berry's poem "A gracious Sabbath stood here while they stood" articulates this same mixed mood of curiosity, desire, and need as God draws near:

...For we are fallen like the trees, our peace Broken, and so we must Love where we cannot trust, Trust where we cannot know, And must await the wayward-coming grace That joins living and dead, Taking us where we would not go— Into the boundless dark. When what was made has been unmade The Maker comes to His work.1

Seamus Heaney, winner of the Nobel Prize for Poetry, anticipates the arrival of a new age of justice and social transformation in a portion of his poem "The Cure at Troy":

...History says Don't hope On this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme. So hope for a great sea-change On the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles And cures and healing wells. Call miracles self-healing: The utter, self-revealing Double-take of feeling. If there's fire on the mountain Or lightening and storm And a god speaks from the sky That means someone is hearing The outcry and the birth-cry Of new life at its term.2

Several years ago when Ronald Reagan was a candidate for President, Reagan's campaign staff decided that he should worship one Sunday at the church which I served. The ensuing flurry of activity preceding the designated Sunday was a testimony to the campaign staff's sense of self-importance and possible threat. Dozens of "advance" men scoured the building, checked entrances and exits, and staked out positions for protective agents. Guard dogs sniffed for bombs inside the sanctuary and snooped their way around the grounds. On Sunday, the candidate slipped in as worship started and left before the benediction.

Some forerunners distort the message or inflate its meaning. By contrast to the campaign crew, John the Baptist is a lone voice dressed in camel hair, proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah to any who will listen. The simplicity of the forerunner and the accessibility of the Messiah offer a theological message about the Savior of the Nations. Candidates, politicians, and people of earthly power glide in and out of crowds safeguarded by teams of forerunners and protective agents. Immanuel, on the other hand, is "God With Us": present, immersed in the hard realities of our lives, and prepared to take on himself eternally anything which can hurt or endanger us.

Judy E. Pidcock


1. Wendell Berry, "A gracious Sabbath stood here while they stood" in Sabbaths (North Point Press, 1987), p. 83. 2. Seamus Heaney, in "The Cure at Troy," as found in Doubletake, Summer, 1996.