Lord, we come to hear your word and learn to live by it, prepare our hearts & minds & bodies and souls to receive what you have for us today – Amen
If I was to tell you that something was - Awesome … or – Unbelievable
Do you think that what I was going to tell you something that might strike you mute, fill you awe and be so overwhelmed that you were frozen still in disbelief
Do you think that might happen?
Probably not – you would probably be expecting something a little special
Or a little out of the ordinary
We live in an over-communicated world
Where we are bombarded with words and images flashing to us in split second speed – from TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, the internet, emails and the list goes on and on…
Our attention is ‘the prize’ of marketers and story-tellers alike
Words and stories have lost some of their zing – in the ever-increasing cycle to grab our attention
We have become a little inoculated from the power of the message – particularly the message - God’s word
This might have happened to you today, maybe even during the reading of the Gospel – say on the 1st two verses
It may appear to us – modern over-stimulated people, as nothing out of the ordinary
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea (e-tur-e-a) and Trachonitis (Tra-con-i-tis), and Lysanias (Lai-SAY-nih-uhs) ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
To our modern ears Luke is merely stating the date in some funny old way
But Luke is doing much more than that – Luke the master of contrasts – juxtaposing one image with an opposing image
Luke is placing this story in the entire wider narrative of human history, in the time of emperor…
This is a grand vision to speak of a momentous event in time
Wide angle shot of the whole of the middle east…
Luke lists seven leaders both secular and religious.
Along side this company, John is nothing, the son of a small town priest.
We start out with a wide angled lens
We have a Roman Emperor, the most powerful man in the world
The lens Narrows to the governor of the Judean region – Pontius Pilate
Narrowing again to the Hebrew leaders of Herod and his brother Philip
Then the high priests Annas & Caiaphas
In this company – in this setting we are told the awesome – unbelievable story
That – the word of God came to John,
Son of a little-known priest – in the wilderness
The word of God came to John
When we read the bible, we read of many prophets – but we can not lose sight of the fact of the magnitude of this event
The word of God came to John
He tells us that this was all foretold before – that this is not some out of the blue – random occurrence – but that the prophets had spoken about what was to come, from our reading in Baruch and also as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. 3 A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”
This voice in the wilderness - the heralder of the upcoming most important man to ever live is none other than John the Baptist
John the Baptist ?
That crazy guy in the wilderness ?
Who wears camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist?
Who eats locusts (grasshoppers) and honey
This is the one that God has chosen to fulfill part of the prophets’ message?
John is a prophet himself?
Speaking God’s word to the world - preparing the people for the coming of the Lord?
You gotta wonder about God’s marketing strategy
He lives in the wilderness away from everyone
People have to travel from the whole of the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem, just to hear him tell a message of someone that was to follow him.
If it were me, I would not have chosen that time - how many people can you reach that are going to walk to hear a wild man in the wilderness.
I would have chosen today, when we have so many ways of communication
I would have put up a billboard on a major highway going into a major city, where thousands would see it
– better yet, all the major highways – into all the major cities
– even better still, I would broadcast on TV and radio and interrupt the internet with the message
- now that is how to communicate a message
Or is it ? Would it be just another message – to our modern ears ?
John serves as the hinge of history, drawing to a close the age of the law and the prophets and inaugurating the age of redemption when, in the words of Zechariah ‘John's spirit-filled father’, "by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us..."(Luke 1:78).
Maybe… maybe there is something to ‘convicting the heart’ of one who had no possessions and lived in the wilderness, the middle of nowhere - serving God’s message – telling of the great one that is to come
Maybe it matters that those that are to hear the message have to travel for it
Maybe news of “The Christ” needs to be heard personally from a man full of conviction and passion and that you need to invest something of yourself to receive it
Maybe that is the start of the preparations – investing yourself in the news – the good news
But John the Baptist did stop there – His message was not merely that the Lord was coming
John told, ‘all that had a desire to hear’ his message, that they needed to prepare for the Lord’s arrival
Prepare our hearts
Now in Roman times, when news that emperor was coming to town
People would get busy – making the town look its best - They would fix the road
They would smooth out bumps – they would work out the strange curves and make them straight
Then as now – when someone special is coming – you get ready – spruce up the place
John in the wilderness is calling for nothing less
John is, of course, not worried about appearances – he was, after all, a wild man living in a wild place, eating bugs and wore camel’s hair
John is worried about their hearts, their inner beauty
And John is living up the prophet’s role and calling the people to ‘turn towards God’
All the prophets called the people to ‘turn towards God’ – repentance
Repentance is not merely saying sorry – but saying sorry with your whole life – and living turned away from the things that you were sorry for
Repentance means change - Sin is that which is ‘out of step’ with God’s will
John’s repentance is from worldly ways towards Godly ways
From sin towards righteousness
And John is symbolically marking ‘this life altering confession of sins’ and repentance by baptizing all those that do
John, as the last of the Old Testament prophets, is ‘preparing a way for the Lord’
Why might people have been attracted to this message?
Why would they seek out this crazy guy in the wilderness traveling, in some cases, long distances, to hear what he was saying
I believe that deep down, when we take some time for intimate personal reflection,
I believe that we all know that we are faulty, we are all sinners,
We might on the surface look bright and shiny, our worst acts might be well buried
But deep down we all know that we are in need of cleaning, we all need the rebirth of baptism, of dieing to sin,
Of repenting (turning away from one way and towards something else)
We all need the healing grace and mercy that comes coupled with repentance,
With acknowledging our falleness and being transformed from that to something better.
This isn’t the typical advent message – and yet it is the preparing for the ways of the Lord.
One might ask themselves ‘why does this matter so much to John?’ – why does he care so much about others, that he has become this person, and lives this life
I am sure that there were others things that John could do – the son of a priest
…The Ancient Hebrews, in those days would have known their scripture
In fact those that became teachers, Rabbis, and John became a famous Rabbi, would have memorize the entire holy scriptures – what we Christians call the Old Testament – by the age of 14-15 – that was just the foundation for learning
And undoubtedly John would have felt convicted by passages such as
I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me.18 If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.
19 If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life.
John was not a product of our clever post-modern era, where truth is relative
Relative to the eye of the beholder
No, to John the Baptist – God’s word of confession of sins and repentance, once given,
was an imperative instruction
To John – preparation for the coming of the Lord - by Repentance was everything
Perhaps we need to rethink the name “John the Baptist” to “John the Messenger” with baptism being our confirmation of that message.
Perhaps we need to consider what message John has for us,
Are we ready for repentance? Have we confessed our sins
Have we built a road for the coming Lord?
§ Have we flattened the mountains, the obstacles
§ our own stumbling blocks that would be in the way
§ Have we filled in the valleys
§ the areas of our life that don’t see the light of day
§ Have we made the path straight, removed the deviant curves in the road
§ the rationalizations that bend the route
§ Have we laid out the ‘red carpet in our heart’ for the Lord?
In our society it is easy to move too quickly right to Christmas and overlook advent
We are apt to lose sight of the person who went before our Lord, and to see nothing but the cute little baby in the manager
It is clear that John’s preaching arrested the attention of the whole Jewish people, and created an excitement all over Palestine.
It roused the nation from its slumbers, and prepared it for the ministry of our Lord.
As an Advent people - as people that are looking for the promise yet to come – trusting in the promise that has occurred
As we prepare our hearts and minds for a holy advent
Consider this as our opportunity to consider other preparations.
Advent is a time for serious road construction…
God through – John the Baptist, Baruch, Isaiah, Malachi, - and in fact every book of the Bible is calling for serious transformation of the landscape of our lives.
In Advent, like lent, we wear purple in services as it is a time of reflection, it is a time to review our lives and consider how we might prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord
Lord, help us to understand - live up - be thankful and to prepare our hearts and minds- to devote our strength for your …Awesome… Unbelievable ….‘good news’ - Amen
Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark. The Crossway classic commentaries (3). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.