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14 November. Luke chapters 2-3
Chapter 2 of Luke is probably one of the best known passages of the Bible – at least the first twenty verses about the birth of Jesus and the visitation of the shepherds, a story retold at every nativity play and carol service. For Anglicans, verses 29-32 are also very familiar in a slightly different translation as the “Nunc dimittis” said or sung daily at Evensong in cathedrals.
So I am going to look at chapter 3 – continuing the story of John the Baptist that was started yesterday with his own miraculous conception. Thirty years on, John and Jesus were both called by God to the tasks for which they had been destined. We don’t know how long John had been proclaiming his message of repentance before Jesus came to be baptised, or how long he had lived a solitary life in the desert before that until he received the “Word of God” (3:2), i.e. the conviction that God was about to appear in a new and unique way that demanded special spiritual preparation. But it might not have been very long, for his “unofficial” ministry made him unpopular with the religious elite, as well as the secular authorities. It seems that soon after Jesus was baptised, John was arrested.
So the baptism at the Jordan of Jesus by his only-slightly-older relative was a moment of handover, when the Holy Spirit that had been in John descended on Jesus in more dramatic form – in appearance as a dove, but with the voice of God from heave (3:22). This is reminiscent of the occasion when Elijah as he was taken up into heaven, passed his robe and with it a “double share of his spirit” to Elisha. On this occasion, the message of self-denial and repentance was about to be replaced with one of rejoicing and healing – fulness of life.
For everyone who turns to God, there is a unique ministry – not preordained in every detail, but to worked out with God and other people according to our aptitudes and character. No-one (other than Jesus) is perfect, we all have weaknesses as well as strengths. Sometimes God arranges it that one person will follow another in a particular situation (such as a parish priest or teacher) with gifts that are different but complimentary. A caring pastor might be succeeded by a brilliant preacher or gifted evangelist, drawing a different set of people into the church. Or in the progress of one group of pupils through school, a teacher who is rigorous in teaching theory might be followed by one skilled at illustrations and practical exercises.
So there is no point worrying whether there are some aspects of your faith or career at which you are weak, as long as there are others at which you are strong. Leave it to God to fill in the gaps.