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In these scriptures today, we are being challenged in different ways to look beyond our self imposed and limited horizons.

FIRST READING

Baruch 5:1-9Baruch was a loyal friend and colleague of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah’s own book he tells us that Baruch accompanied him into exile in Egypt. In tough times Baruch writes beautifully, "Take off the garment of your sorrow …put on the beauty of the glory from God". Notice that the sorrow is ours but the glory we seek to exchange it for is God’s. We are hearing something said to us repeatedly in the Bible, something that conflicts with much of today's thinking. We have endless books and programs about self development, training the self, nourishing the self. In itself this is not wrong but it is incomplete. The Bible demands that we reach out to the self that is beyond our own self - the ultimate self - that of God. Again Baruch writes - “God has ordered that every high mountain be made low and every valley filled up, to make level ground.”  We will be given grace to scale the many mountains of the many concerns that seem to loom over us right now. The many contemporary valleys of anxiety and even despair will be filled up. With what? "With the mercy and righteousness that come from God.” 

THE CANTICLE

Luke 1:68-79The moment we enter this passage we’re surrounded by a Jewish family party. Food. Music. Singing. Dancing! The whole nine yards, as we say. A child has been born! Even more joy, the birth was unexpected. "Blessed be the Lord God…he has raised upon for us a Saviour." Notice how different that long ago culture is. We would probably have started our “toast” with our personal joy, then perhaps bringing in the family. We would probably stop there. But for Zechariah, family, extended family, tribe and nation are all a single organism. Among us today there is the beginning of a longing for a greater cohesion in society, a greater neighbourliness. A new generation is showing signs of wanting to stay within reasonable reach of family, so that children have a sense of their roots in an age of vast impersonal globalization. Zechariah says “You too my child shall be called the prophet of the Most High…to prepare his way.” We can pray for our child that he or she will become a channel of God’s working in many ways.

THE SECOND READING

Philippians 1: 3-11
The thing about a letter is that it communicates how the writer is feeling. As he writes to the folk in Philippi Paul is feeling very good. Things are going well, something not always true in those early communities. Lets face it, not always true in our congregations today!  Paul writes “I thank my God, constantly praying for all of you”. For him it was the group that was important. In our instinctive individualism we tend to pray more often for particular people than for the community. Both are necessary. “Your sharing in the Gospel.”  writes Paul. What a great definition of a congregation. When we worship we share the gospel. When we meet in committees, or in a synod, we share the gospel. Any program we design and implement we need to ask if it shares the gospel. The most mundane things - finances, upkeep of buildings - are ways in which we share the gospel. Now Paul writes “This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more.” The one thing a Christian community does not do is rest on its oars, content with what it is at any given time. Notice too what is primary for Paul in congregational life - the quality of the mutual caring that is shown in its ongoing life. 

THE HOLY GOSPEL

LUKE 3:1-6
Shakespeare often introduces a scene with the direction "Trumpets and Alarums/" It jolts people into paying attention. That's what Luke does here. We see a glittering procession of power. Roman power and Jewish power. Then Luke gives us a sudden anticlimax. His “camera" swings on to a most extraordinary figure. No fine clothes, no well fed figure - instead a body lean and tough, a face weathered by desert sun. Ironically, in spite of the claims of all the others  - the Emperor claims to be a god, the High Priest claims to talk to God - it is to this extraordinary figure, Luke tells us, “ the word of God came!”  This should alert us not to assume that God uses this or that official channel or person or organization to address the human situation. 
So what does this extraordinary figure immediately do? He pushes aside any “camera" we would wish to point at him. Then the first thing John the Baptizer says is, in effect, “You don’t get it. This is not about me. Its about someone else who is coming after me".  The more we think about that, the more we realize that this is not a bad attitude about everything we do as a congregation. Its not about us. Its about someone else. Our job is preparing the way of the Lord. Actually if we want to get people to remember this, we might consider playing - or getting someone  to play - as we sing the very first electrifying chorus of JESUS CHRIST SUPER STAR!.  Crazy? Of course not. Try it!.