John the Baptist’s message
3 In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler[a] over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler[b] over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler[c] over Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 4 This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
A voice crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
6 All humanity will see God’s salvation.”[d]
Earlier in the service, we lit the candle of Peace. In one particular Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown and his little sister Sally are talking about peace, along with the uncertainty of life and all the craziness life can entail. Sally proudly proclaims that she has inner peace, but still appears to be really restless. As the comic strip continues, something sets Sally on a rant and she begins raving to her brother, “I hate everything! I hate the world!” Charlie Brown trying to calm her down, stops her. “I thought you had inner peace,” he says. To which Sally woefully responses, “I do, but I still have outer obnoxious-ness!” It is all too easy to identify with Sally, isn’t it? We have many “outer- obnoxious-ness” in our lives. How can we prepare the way for peace this Advent season, even amidst all of our “outer-obnoxious-ness”?
In the midst of the Advent season, our text this morning cries out using Isaiah’s words to, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Think about the last time you prepared for something, perhaps a work or school project, a party, or a meal for guests. What did you do to prepare? Often times when we are preparing for something, we tend to want to plan ahead, to make to-do lists. When we are planning meticulously and preparing, we care enough about the tasks at hand to want to get our preparations exactly correct. Over the course of the Advent season as we prepare, let us bring the same eagerness to our anticipation of Christ’s coming.
Christian author, Handel Brown writes, “Christmas has lost its meaning for us because we have lost the spirit of expectancy. We cannot prepare for an observance. We must prepare for an experience.” Just as we take time to pull Christmas decorations out of our attics and we carefully prepare to place ornaments on our trees (and in some homes we re-hang ornaments on the tree multiple times after cats knock them off), just as we take time to make our shopping lists and to double check them twice, just as we take time to prepare holiday meals; we are called to create a space to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. Preparing our hearts to receive Christ is at the very heart of the Advent season.
John the Baptist was born to anticipate and prepare. John, the voice crying out in the wilderness, was charge to prepare the way before the Lord, to prepare the way for peace. While many powerful people are mentioned at the beginning of our text, it is seemingly insignificant John, the son of Zechariah, a temple priest, who has a call to proclaim and help others prepare the way for the Lord. The writer of Luke took special care to remind us that John the Baptist was called to deliver a message, a call which occurred smack in the middle of world events, at a very particular time and a very particular place. As he does in other places throughout the text, Luke, a writer with a historian mind-set, places the events of Christ’s life in historical context and provides us with a rich background to portray John as prophet who worked and spoke in the real world of human authorities.
We don’t get the words of John’s proclamation in today’s passage, stay tuned for Dan’s sermon on John’s words and counsel next Sunday. What we can infer from our passage today is John the Baptist is charged with preparing the way and anticipating the ministry of Christ; to proclaim baptism and to get people ready to see Christ’s ministry and hear Christ’s teachings. To wait and see, to get people ready for Christ’s unique peace. A peace saving people from the darkness of their sins—bringing indescribable peace through an unlikely cross. A savior who brings peace through mercy and forgiveness and who shows us all glimpses of peace with every new day—if we are paying attention. A savior who gives us peace in knowing that salvation is offered and a savior who makes, “every mountain and hill made low.”
So what does all this mean for us as we prepare for Christ’s coming and Christ’s peace today? Advent suggest that God seems to want us to wait. Waiting for Christ in Advent is hard. God seems to expect expectation. What does this level of preparation and peace look like? Especially when we don’t have to look too far to be hit with our “outer-obnoxious-ness.” What must we do to prepare the way for the Lord?
Preparation for the coming of Christ happens not only when Tiberius was emperor but also December 9, 2018. In this second year of the presidency of Donald Trump, when Ralph Northam serves as Governor of Virginia, Pope Francis occupies the Vatican, and just a month after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, as National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend begins this Thursday, and as the Yemen food crisis continues. While war, struggle, and heartache occur in many places, we are called to be prepared and to celebrate joyfully ‘a child, a son, a Prince of Peace given to us’—not in spite of all that is horrible, dangerous, or distressing about the world around us, but precisely because of it.
But perhaps we should bring it to more personal level—-what does anticipation and preparation for the Lord look like for me? What does it look like for you? How do we feel when we hear that it’s time to prepare? Nervous? Excited? Ecstatic? Anxious? Ponderous? Peaceful? Overwhelmed? What do the words of Advent, hope, peace, love, joy, provoke you to do in preparation? What are you looking forward to? Advent preparation is similar to the refining and redefining process. Do we feel like we are refining ourselves during Advent? Which practices prepare you the most for the coming of Christ? I’m partial to singing, it feels emotionally connected and yet mysterious. Singing also brings to light why anticipation can be so emotional as we connect with and pray the lyrics of songs. Another practice we use to prepare is the advent wreath- each candle connecting us to a specific theme as we prepare. How else can we prepare for Christ and what characteristics are needed? Advent preparation is attentive and intentional. Advent preparation is about creating moments to be still, to pray, and experience God’s peace. As author, Bill McKibben writes, “Advent is the time to listen for footsteps of God – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.” Advent preparation calls us to the challenge of striving to work alongside others to make God’s salvation and peace known to all humankind.
Preparing the way for Christ and for peace in a busy world filled with turmoil can be as hard as trying to build a sandcastle close to the spot where the waves of life crash at the water’s edge. There’s always the chance that some outer-obnoxious-ness will come along and shake things up and tear down our carefully built peace castles. Poet, Sarah Are, addresses what to do when such a shakeup happens through a beautiful poem in our “Draw Near” devotionals. Listen to her words:
“Truth is like sand-
Slipping through my fingers
Every time I turn on the news.
So day after day, I gather the dust at my feet
And build sand castles of the world I want to see-
Sand castle cities with fair housing, no walls,
Families united and a name like Love.
And when the waves threaten to tear them down,
I will rebuild.
For the truest thing I know is that
God is love,
And love is strong than fear.
So at the end of the day, if you need me,
I’ll be taking sand-soaked alternative truths
And turning them into sand castles of a better world-
A world rooted in love,
Which I will keep building
Until “love,” and “truth” and “God” all sound like
Friends, preparing the way for Christ to work and preparing space for God peace, can often be hard and messy work as we are crowded by outer-obnoxious-ness. But such preparations are important work we are all called to engage this season of Advent; to proactively, and expectantly prepare, to proclaim peace among mess, and to proclaim the salvation that the Lord gives us. Let us approach Christmas with an expectant hush, rather than a last-minute rush. As we ponder the peace of Christ and prepare, let us live in the moment that believes such promise is possible that all flesh will see the salvation of God. Wait for it. Wait for Christ’s peace. Amen.