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` Sermon Ideas For Luke 3:7-18 Part 6

Often in retelling the gospel story, John is referred to as a "harbinger." We are instructed in the Dictionary of Word Origins that a "harbinger" originally was someone who provided "harbour"—that is, "shelter" or "lodging."1 The ancestor of the word was the Old Saxon, "herebeorg," which is the origin of "harbour." Our modern meaning of harbinger developed in the 14th Century as someone sent on ahead to arrange lodging for an army or an official party. A harbinger is a forerunner.
There are those individuals, throughout history whose special sensitivities are oriented somehow to the future. These persons are not lost in the maze of the present, nor distracted by the whims of short-lived passions and preoccupations. Their spiritual sight peers beyond those things to see into the enduring themes of human life.
These harbingers are rooted securely in a tradition but not blinded by that tradition so as to miss how truths are constantly being rewritten and reshaped in the passage of time.
A historical survey of the deep crises of the Protestant and Catholic reformations in the 16th century will reveal that there were courageous harbingers of that change living centuries before.
The Czech religious reformer John Huss anticipated, with his theology, almost at every point, the thought of Martin Luther. Huss lived over a century before Luther. At about the same time as Huss, William Langland was developing a theology of protest in his visionary "Piers Plowman." This poem is a passionate plea for a faith that is freely available to the common man and woman. The poem sponsors a virtuous life lived simply and rails against the church for its excesses. Echoing John the Baptist, Langland calls believers to live rightly, reminding them of the simple needs of human beings:
clothing to keep out the cold meal at mealtime to maintain the body and drink to the thirsty2
William Langland's vision is that of the reformer, and he therefore stands in the tradition of John the Baptist in calling believers back to the enduring substance of their faith. An angel, in mocking tone, speaking Latin, admonishes the church to be faithful to its important duties:
O thou that dost administer the special laws of King Christ, that hou mayest do this the better, be just, be merciful! Naked justice needs to be clothed by thee in mercy. Such harvest as thou wouldst reap, such seeds thou must sow. If justice be stripped naked, mayest thou meet with naked justice. If mercy be sown, mayest thou reap mercy.3
John the Baptist's message is a message of reform. The Church's contemporary proclamation takes place in the tradition not only of the Baptist's reform but of all the reforms signaling the church's rebirth in history.
The world is not a safe place for reformers. John the Baptist was beheaded. Huss was burned at the stake.
The harbinger nevertheless prepares a way for the new thing that God is doing.
Joel Whiteside
1. John Ayto, ed., Dictionary of Word Origins (New York: Arcade Publishing 1990), p. 273. 2. Alexander M. Witherspoon, ed., The Collect Survey of English Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.: 1951), p. 90. 3. Ibid., p. 88.