Luke 3:1-6: 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.'”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
Wow, that gospel was quite a mouthful, and I’m very glad I wasn’t the one reading it; but I would like to just reread a piece that I think is really important:
“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.’
” Now, I really love John the Baptist, I love that he’s this wild prophet out in the wilderness, with his revolutionary proclamations: Prepare the way of the Lord! I love that, I mean I’m not ready to go out to the street corner with a sandwich board, but I love it.
And what I find so interesting about this passage today is that it is this foretelling of something great and life-changing. Which might seem like it’s just another weird text about the end times, but I think it can say a lot to us about where we are right now.
And where we are right now is Advent. Now, it’s a kinda funny thing that doesn’t get talked about a lot that we have so many apocalyptic and prophetic passages during Advent; and I think this goes to what Keith has been preaching on in his last two sermons about how we explain and understand Advent. There is a lot here that we tend to gloss over, not just when we scramble to get to Christmas, but also when we focus too much on the aesthetics of the liturgical season. Either way, we’re missing the opportunity to discuss something really important, something that has huge bearing on our future as the church and how we engage with contemporary society.
Now, you might be asking yourselves, how am I drawing that conclusion? I mean, come on, this is crazy prophetic talk from an ancient people, written down in the early centuries of history. What the heck does this have to do with us today?
It seems like such a strange way to begin the season of Advent.
Because Advent is, let’s face it, usually lumped into the Christmas season which is all about presents and food and decorations, it’s a light season, a happy season. Even if people are not sucked into the commercial Christmas season, it’s still about a sweet story of a baby in manger with cute little sheep and cows standing around.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I already have my Santa mugs out and my tree up and I have been blasting Christmas music in my car on the way to work every morning since November 12th, so this is not a disparaging remark aimed at anyone, but it is something to think about.
Because we lose something of the power of the story when we forget what this really means.
We are in the season of preparing our hearts, waiting for God-with-us, God made flesh, and in the midst of a season of hope and peace and joy and love being born into the world, we are confronted with these passages about the coming of something that disrupts the great power structures and pulls down the temple and society and everything. Just as in the midst of great tyrannical power God sends His Son, born a baby to humble parents, a humble birth of a king.
And as odd as it might seem, this is exactly why we need Advent. Because these two images don’t make sense together, and as we prepare for God to move among humans, we are preparing for the reverse ordering of the status quo, we are preparing for an overturning of culture and tradition, power and privilege. Jesus’ coming is not just spiritual, it is social. He is not just preparing his followers for a different kingdom after death, but calls upon them to be different in the present.
It is not just about what happens in the fullness of time or in the ancient of days, but what is happening right now.
When we get to this season, there’s always competing visions of the right way to do this or that. Keith talked about it last week with the Advent traditions. Blue or purple, how we use the wreath, can you sing Christmas carols. We become so ensconced in our own ideas about the best way to celebrate, and sometimes in doing so, we forget what we’re celebrating.
There is always a lot of talk at this time about the War on Christmas, and keeping Christ in Christmas, or talking about how the church needs to be countercultural because society is just so far from the Gospel right now; and I think that this time with Advent invites us into this conversation if we let it.
Because here is the Gospel: that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to be born into it, not a great king, not a mighty warrior, but a helpless baby. Gifted to two humble, faithful people, born in the lowliest of places, surrounded by animals and shepherds. That God so loved this world that when He thought of what could best show His love, He didn’t go to the high priests or the politicians, He didn’t go to the wealthy or the powerful. When His Son built His ministry, He chose tax collectors and fishermen; when He gave examples of great faith and love He spoke about Samaritans and lepers and impoverished women; when He brought messages of trust and hope, He walked among the crowds on the side of the sea.
I don’t think this Gospel is lost, I think we have forgotten how to recognize it. But this is our opportunity to wrestle with it.
As we prepare ourselves for His coming in this Advent season, we can be reminded that we are tasked with not only waiting with joyful anticipation, but with passionate and hopeful action. We are not called to be countercultural or to pull away from the world, we are called into loving relationship with the world that God created.
I know that it’s a lot to ask in this already busy season. I get it, I’m swamped. And I want to just enjoy the Christmas lights and cookies and those Hallmark made-for-tv movies too. But Advent is an opportunity as followers of Christ to delve into something more, something deeper.
So my brothers and sisters, as we move forward, as we journey towards the coming of Christ, let us remember that this is not just the birth of a baby we are celebrating, but the birth of a Saviour. Who came to change the world, and who calls us into that mission. This season is a time to prepare, to move closer, a time to think about our relationship to Christ and what our mission is, a time to remember just how much God loves us, and how He shows that love to the world. A time to think about the Gospel story, not just as a cute crèche scene, but as an overturning of the world.
And it is a time to remember the powerful gifts we have been given to prepare the way for the Lord: hope, peace, joy, and love.