The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke.
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 and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘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;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
Some time ago, the leaders of the Commonwealth countries were to meet in Nigeria. Our Mr. Chretien was among them.
Now the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, was there, probably to open the proceedings, and do some public relations work. She was scheduled to attend a traditional Nigerian marketplace.
Well, the security situation being what it was, at the time, the government of Nigeria couldn’t guarantee her safety in a marketplace, what with all the alleyways, and hidden recesses, and all, so it was decided to have a make-believe marketplace, with stalls set up in a sort of a movie set, with access strictly regulated, and actors – actors – playing the part of the usual stall-holders, and customers.
Her Majesty is no fool, so I bet she would have seen through the ruse, but lady that she is, would not have embarrassed anyone by noting it.
It’s ludicrous, isn’t it? But the phrase, from our reading today, “ In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert, a highway for our God,” has its roots in a similar practice, in the countries of the east, centuries ago.
When the king decided to make an inspection of a particular area, the people who would normally just throw their garbage out onto the dusty potholed road, would have to go out and clear up the mess, and fill in the holes, and make the way worthy of the king. He wouldn’t see the place as it really was.
Today we hear the message of John the Baptist calling upon people similarly, to make themselves ready. Not for the coming of a king, but for the arrival of Jesus Christ.
And not by clearing up garbage, and fixing roads, but by cleaning up their lives. He wants them to change. To repent. To make a big U turn in their lives.
And many did.
They came in their hundreds, and John baptised them in the River Jordan.
What brought them?
He really was a strange-looking man, wearing clothing made of camel hair, and with long unkempt hair and beard. And his diet??? We are told he ate roots, berries, and locusts.
A radio station somewhere in the States a few years ago put out a recipe for bread made from locusts and crickets. It was supposed to be very nutritious. I wonder how many people would come forward if our communion bread were made that way.
Now why did people come to John?
Maybe they were at a point in their lives when they recognised the need for change.
Maybe they had gone the other route, trying to find comfort in possessions, in living for themselves, and found that way of life to be empty.
It was a time in history when people were feeling alienated. Jews chafed under the rule of the Romans.
They felt lost, had no sense of belonging. And the religion of the day only offered thousands of rules.
So when they heard John’s message: “ Someone is coming who is greater than I. I am not fit to even untie the thong of his sandal. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. Get ready, turn your life around. Repent, ” they responded.
We are probably living in the best time in history. We in the industrialised world have comforts that our ancestors couldn’t even dream of. And yet the signs are, that people are no more content than their grandparents or great grand parents were.
There are more people in this world than there have ever been, yet many of us suffer from loneliness.
We have had the benefit of pediatricians, guidance counselors, child psychologists, and more, and yet kids leave home for uncertain life in the city.
What will it take to get today’s lost sheep to respond?
And if you don’t see today’s people as lost sheep, look around, the next time you are in the mall. People surge by, glassy-eyed, this way and that, searching for that great bargain.
They are in thrall to the colour, and the lights, and the music, and the noise, and the urgency of it all. And we do it every year, don’t we?
We are exactly like sheep!
We only have to hear a few verses of ‘Rudolph’ and we automatically reach for our wallets.
But, just as people in John’s day were ready to change their lives, I believe that people of today are ready too.
They just need to hear the call of Jesus.
The parents of a little girl sent her to church regularly every Sunday, but never came in with her. They would pull up in front of the church, drop her off, and go out for Sunday breakfast. The father was an executive for a big chemical company, very ambitious, upwardly mobile .
They were well-known for their Saturday night parties, given not so much for entertainment or out of friendship, but as a part of the husband’s career advancement program. How someone might help towards his goals, determined who was invited. The whole town knew about the things that went on at those parties.
But every Sunday morning, there was that little girl.
One Sunday the pastor looked out at his congregation and, as usual, there she was. He looked again, and realized that her mom and dad were sitting with her this Sunday. They came forward after the service, and asked to join the church. The pastor asked them what had prompted this.
“Do you know about our parties?,” they asked. “Yeah, I’ve heard of your parties.”
“Well, we had one last night. It got a bit loud, kind of rough, lots of drinking. And it woke up our daughter, who was asleep upstairs. She came down the stairs and was on about the third step. And she saw the eating and drinking and said, ‘Oh, can I do the blessing? God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Goodnight everybody,’ and she went back up the stairs.”
“Funny. Things quieted down real fast. People began to say, ‘It’s getting late, we really must be going, thanks for a great evening,’ and within two minutes the whole place was empty.”
“We started to pick up the crumpled napkins and half-eaten sandwiches and spilled peanuts, and then we looked at each other. And said, “ What have we been thinking? Where do we think we’re going?”
The words of that little girl opened the eyes of that couple to the changes they needed to make in their lives – to meet Jesus.
Preparing for God’s ways to take hold in our hearts is what Advent is about. For that to happen, we may need to make some changes in direction.
It may have to do with giving less attention to being comfortable and more attention to bringing comfort to others.
It might involve remembering someone who is lonely. It might mean being sensitive to those who have suffered pain and loss and for whom Christmas will not be the same this year.
It might involve spending time in scripture and in prayer so that God’s word can work in our hearts and lives.
It might mean giving attention to relationships that need healing: making a tough decision or taking a difficult action that you know you need to make.
It might mean getting involved in righting a wrong in our world.
As we do these things, we may find that God will begin to lead us out of the wilderness, and we begin to discover the comfort and peace and joy of knowing Jesus.
A man went to his doctor for his annual physical. After the exam, he waited a few minutes for the doctor’s report. The doctor came in with his charts in his hand, and said, “ Well, there’s no reason why you can’t live a completely normal life – as long as you don’t try to enjoy it.”
We’ve got him beat, because life with Jesus is life to enjoy.
Let’s examine our hearts and prepare the way of the Lord, in our lives. Let’s be ready to receive him.
And begin living with joy.