Dec 9, 2018

“Prepare The Way” - Luke 3:1-6

“Prepare The Way” - Luke 3:1-6

            In ancient times, when a king planned to visit a city, he would send someone ahead to let people know he was coming.  Someone to announce that he’d be arriving soon.  This herald would go all over the city, and he would meet with the city leaders.  This is the message that he would give to all of them.  “The king is coming.  He will be here any day.  Get ready.  Clean up your lives.  Make sure you are in obedience to his commands.  That way you won’t be punished when he arrives.”

            This herald also served as kind of a city inspector.  He would go around and make a list of things that needed to be repaired before the king got there.  He would give orders.  “Clean up your city.  Sweep your sidewalks.  Get rid of all the garbage lying around.  Round up any criminals so that the streets will be safe.  Fix the roads.  Make them smooth and straight.  No potholes.  Make your town shine.  Make sure it’s fit for the king to visit.  Come on.  Snap to.  Get with it.”

You see, it would be an embarrassment if the city were not properly prepared when the king arrived.  And it would certainly be an insult to the king if not prepared to show him proper hospitality.  If he found them unprepared, he would undoubtedly mete out some horrible punishment upon them.  Of course, nobody would like that.

            That’s pretty much what is happening in our Gospel reading for this the second Sunday of Advent.  That’s exactly what’s going on.  Yes, the King is coming, and a special herald has been sent to announce his imminent arrival.  The king, of course, is none other than the King of Kings.  It’s none other than Jesus the Christ.  The herald is preparing us.  The herald is warning us.  So, we’d better pay attention while we can.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            Luke opens things up by setting the stage.  He provides us with an impressive who’s-who list.  He lets us know in some detail who the so-called hotshot players are.  The big dog is the Emperor Tiberius.  Luke tells us he’s been sitting on his throne for fifteen years.  His henchman in Judea is none other than Pontius Pilate.  Herod Antipas calls the shots in Galilee where Jesus spends most of his time.  His brother Philip ramrods the region next door.  And there’s this dude named Lysanias who runs Abilene.  Of course, we’re not talking about Abilene, Kansas.  Luke clearly points out the ones who think they’re in charge.  But of course they’re really not in charge.  They end up just being bit players in this big story.  Because, as we know, God is the one who’s really in charge. 

            Having dealt with the world situation and with the political situation in Palestine, Luke immediately turns our attention to the religious situation.  He lets us know that this is during the time of the high priesthood of Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas.  Of course, there was really only one high priest.  He was supposed to be the civil and religious head of the Jewish community.  In the old days, the office of high priest had been hereditary and like our Supreme Court justices, was a lifetime job.  But this changed with the coming of the Romans.  They wanted to have a hand in deciding who would be in this powerful position.  True, Annas was high priest from 7-14 A.D.  And somehow, he managed to have four of his sons and then his son-in-law appointed to the position.  So, Caiaphas may have been the reigning high priest, but make no mistake, Annas was the one who truly held all the power.

            So when Luke rolls out this list of seven supposed big shots, he’s letting us know that something very, very big is about to happen.  Something truly extraordinary is in the wind.  Something is about to take place that will change the world forever.  That’s right.  God is up to something, and nothing is ever going to be the same again.

            God is about to spring into action.  God is ready to have the way prepared for the beloved son.  We know him as Jesus the Christ.  And God is going to use an ordinary man to do this important preparation work.  A plain, ordinary man from in the middle of nowhere.  God’s not using any of those supposed big shots of the day for this important task.  Doesn’t pick someone who’s in Rome or even Jerusalem.  No, God picks a man named John who dresses funny and lives in the desert.  

            And it may very well have happened like this.  One day, John is in the desert praying and meditating.  God shows up.  And God gives John a message.  God gives him an assignment.  And with that encounter, this John, the son of Zechariah a priest, finds his life is changed forever.

            John is given instructions.  He’s given marching orders.  And John seems not to hesitate.  He doesn’t make excuses like Moses and some of the other great prophets did.  He somehow doesn’t let fear or inadequacy get in the way.  He gets right down to business.  He rolls up his sleeves and gets straight to work.  Gets straight to God’s work.

            John begins to travel about the region near the Jordan River.  And wherever John goes, he proclaims a message.  It’s really a rather simple one.  He proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.   

            And Luke lets us know that this has been God’s plan all along.  It’s not some Plan B that God throws together on the spur of the moment.  No, God has been reaching out to the world in love since the very beginning of it all.  Luke says it’s actually in fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed centuries earlier.  “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.  ‘Get ready.  Brace yourselves.  Pay close attention.  For I’ve been sent to prepare the way of the Lord.  I have some good news.  Some truly amazing news.  Pretty soon things are going to change.  They’re going to change for the better.’” 

And wow!  Luke says that it’s John’s job to set in motion what the great prophet Isaiah has been talking about.  That is John’s task.  Yes, his mission is to usher out a broken world and to announce a new one.  A monumental mission straight from God.  To prepare the way.  To spread the news in the region of the Jordan.  To spread the news around the world.  That things are about to change for the better.  That someone’s coming.  Someone who will dazzle.  Someone who will amaze.  Someone who will delight.  Someone who’ll turn the world right side up. 

            And that someone is none other than God’s beloved son.  Jesus the Christ.  The Prince of Peace.  The Wonderful Counselor.  Immanuel.  God with us.  God for us.

            And this Jesus will get rid of the valleys of grief and death.  Of despair and heartache.  He will lay low the mountains of confusion and suffering.  Of struggle and discouragement.  Those things that seem to be too big move.  Too wide to get around.  And he will heal.  He will forgive.  He will make whole and complete.  And it’s John the Baptist who is given the challenge to help usher in this new age.  This work will be rewarding.  But this work will prove difficult.  It’ll cost him all he has.

            Once upon a time there was a man who had been frantically preparing for Christmas.  He’d been cleaning the house, putting up decorations, addressing cards, and buying lots of presents.  At the end of one long day, he was so exhausted he fell asleep in his favorite chair. 

That’s when a man came to him in a dream.  “Hello, my name is John.  I was sent here to give you a special message.”

            “What is it?”

            “I was given instructions to tell you that you need to prepare for Christmas.”

            “You gotta’ be kidding.  What do you think I’ve been doing these past few days?  Why, I’m wearing myself slick preparing for Christmas.”

            “No, I mean another kind of preparing.  I’m talking about preparing more room in your heart and in your life for the Spirit of the living Christ.”

            “Oh, I’ve already done that.  I’m a born-again Christian, don’t you know.  I’ve been baptized and everything.”

            “That’s a common mistake some people make.  You see, baptism is not graduation.  It’s not the destination.  No, baptism marks the beginning of the journey with Christ.  It’s not the end point.  And kind of like road repair, it’s not a one-time job.  Ongoing repair is required.  That’s what I mean by preparing for Christ.”

            “Oh, I see.  So how do I do this preparing?’

            “Well, you might try prayer and worship for starters.  They’re essential parts of preparing.  You see, the preparing God really wants is for all of us to carefully examine our lives, our values, and our priorities.  That usually leads to repentance and then getting back on the right track.  You’ve been spending all of your time and energy preparing for Santa Claus.  You need to be spending some of that time and energy preparing for Christ.  So, wake up.  Prepare.  Repent.”

            And just like that, the man woke in a cold sweat.  And he began to give some serious thought to the true meaning and purpose of Advent. 

            Yes, that’s really what Advent is all about.  It’s about preparing.  It’s about making more room.  Making more room for this Jesus in our hearts and in our minds and in our lives.  And this Jesus is more than worth the effort.  He’s the very source of peace.  Of hope.  Of love.  And even of joy.  Big gifts meant for sharing.  Truly, thanks be to God.  Amen.