Preparing the way, by Pastor Noel

Dec. 9, 2018    2nd Advent, C


      Today Luke introduces us to John the Baptizer. Luke give us a lot of seemingly factual information about what was going on in the world around John—but not all of it is helpful!

      “Lysanias, ruler of Abilene” for example, is a mystery figure, and so is the time frame Luke give us.

      “In the fifteenth year” would be easy to calculate today, but in Luke’s day there were at least 4 different calendars! We would have to ask him, “in the 15th year of what?”

      Our calendar of 365 days and 12 months in the year, was not universal until the 6th century.

      I guess 4 calendars would make it easy to be late all the time, or miss all kinds of stuff. What an excuse!

      Luke is writing to “Theophilus” which means “one who loves God” as we find out in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which Luke also wrote.

      In giving this grand introduction to John, Luke starts with the whole known world, the Roman Empire and the Emperor Tiberius, and narrows his focus through other leaders of the world around Israel, until he zooms in on John, who is in the wilderness.

      A very different place and a very different person from all the grand leaders Luke names.

      This John is a prophet. We know this because he is introduced as prophets are, by telling us that Zechariah was his father.

      But the most important part of John’s introduction says, “the word of God” came to him.

      So, even though we have this great build up about John with all the world leaders, the really important player in this story is God.

      In naming all those powerful ones, Luke isn’t just giving us a history lesson.

      For people then, these names would have been a reminder of the chaos and power struggles in the world. He is making a strong political statement about the kingdoms of the world compared to God’s kingdom.

      Then comes a strange character who’s not part of the world’s power. Out of the wilderness comes John.

      John has a message. John is the message. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he says. Then he shows us how to do this.           

      John the Baptizer is part of the story in all four of the gospels. What we call the Christmas Story, the accounts of Jesus’ birth, the Nativity of our Lord—this story is in only 2 gospels. (extra points if you can name the 2)

      John the Baptizer brought a very important message for all who will listen.

      Unfortunately, his message, or rather God’s message that John gives us, is not as much fun as angels and shepherds and wise men bringing gifts to a cute little baby.

      John’s message is “repent!”

      And, even though it’s only Advent in here, let me say that John’s message does not sound like “Alleluia, Christ is born!” or even, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!”

      John’s message sounds like something we know we ought to do, but we’ll get around to it… someday.

      Repent, means to change. And who wants to do that!

      Repent can mean, “turn and walk the other way.” Take another path, in other words. Repent can mean, “change your mind.” Hmm—change my mind. That’s not so hard!             Or is is?

      John, speaking for God, is asking us to change our minds about what the world “out there” says is important, the right thing to do, how to live.

      We may agree that our culture, like the prevailing culture in all times, is not what it could be, there’s too much ——- and not enough ——- (you fill in the blanks.)

      We also would most likely agree that our culture is the only way we know to live. To change that would be really hard, even scary.

      AND, this change is the only way to really be alive as God’s children.

      John quotes Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth…”

      I guess that kind of engineering was done for kings when they went on a journey. Roads would be built as straight and flat as possible so that the king would have smooth going.

      But John isn’t talking about road building. He’s inviting us to look into our hearts, and make them as smooth as we can—with God’s help, of course—so that Jesus can have a smooth journey, smooth going into our hearts.

      And then we are further invited to make the way smooth for Jesus into other folks’ hearts.

      Tom Ehrich, who writes a wonderful daily spiritual message called, “On a Journey” says that Christmas cards are a way of doing this. As we reach out to friends and family with our cards, we are saying that they are important to us. Even cards with a picture of Santa can remind our friends of the importance of relationships, especially our relationship with Jesus.

      So, yes, maybe we do have to change our minds. We can only make Jesus’ way smooth if and when we see that the culture that we know “out there” isn’t the culture God wants for us.

      The culture “out there” is filled with all kinds of rough places and valleys that we can fall into and lose our way.          Like thinking that our lives will be perfect if we buy or receive the right presents at Christmas. Isn’t that what the culture tells us?

      Then, of course, we know the let down once all the wrapping paper and ribbons are thrown out, and we’re left with stuff that doesn’t make our lives perfect, and what we really want is what that person over there has.

      John calls us to hear God’s word and put our priorities in order. All flesh can only “see the salvation of God” as we open our hearts to God.

      You may think of John the Baptizer, last of the prophets, as bringing a message of harsh judgment from God.

      Aren’t all those cartoon prophets with signs announcing the end of the world based on John?

      The judgment John is calling us to is forgiveness! Accepting our loving God’s acceptance of us (and of everyone) and living “forgiven, loved and free” as the hymn says.

      The message of our culture, of the world, is that we are not good enough, smart enough, rich enough, whatever… and never will be! No smooth going there.

      The smooth going comes from saying yes to the forgiveness and compassion and mercy and joy and peace and love that Jesus shows us are God’s nature. Not harsh judgment, just forgiveness and love.

      Advent is the perfect time to take time with God so that we can accept and rejoice in God’s message.

      When we can get our minds and hearts around that message, all the rough places of the word’s message disappear.      

      Then we live as redeemed, beloved children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and we and all who see us will know the salvation of our God.




The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details