1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Friends, today on this second week of Advent, we meet John the Baptist. And if you’ll notice, we always meet John the Baptist this week. John is always the subject of the gospel in the second week of Advent. And Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus. For the coming of God into this place, into this world, and into our lives.
And we hear that word from John in our gospel for today. Prepare. John the Baptist is the voice crying out in the wilderness…Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.”
While we are preparing to make room in our homes for more stuff. As we are preparing to make room under the tree. John is asking us to prepare room for God. To make room for God in our life. Remember how mother Mary and Joseph are traveling by night and the arrive at the inn and was there any room for them? No. So they had to go out to the stables. Where the animals stayed. Advent is time of preparation. It asks us, through the voice of John, to make room for God. To prepare the way of the Lord.
Isn’t it interesting that the gospels tells us that the Lord needs a way, a path, prepared in order to come to us? Isn’t it interesting that the Lord, God, needs something from us, God’s creation, in order to come to us in the way in which God would like.
Last week I spoke about how God is always coming to us. John even reminds us here, that the kingdom of God has come near. That we aren’t waiting for a second coming of Jesus, we are waiting for the billionth coming of Jesus, because God is always drawing near to us. But according to John the Baptist we can prevent God’s coming. We can block God’s entering into our life by not preparing a way for God.
Now, please hear me. I am not talking about eternal salvation here. I am not talking about needing to let God into your heart in order to spend eternity with God. God has already decided that. God has already claimed you as God’s very own and it is nothing of your doing. But I am talking about the way God functions in our life here to bring about a better life for the world.
It makes me think of people who have prepared the way for God in our life time. People who have made more room for God. I think of people like Martin Luther King Jr. Or Rosa Parks. Or Nelson Mandela, who recently died on Thursday. I think of the inequality that has been in this country and around the world with regards to race. Racism is a roadblock to the way of the Lord. Racism prevents us from being loving and compassionate and gracious to our neighbors. And if you ask our confirmation students who are neighbors are, they will tell you: all people. All people. Racism prevents from being as God wants us to be which is as one body of humanity. One body that knows we need each other, like a hand needs an arm and a leg needs a heart and toes needs lungs. And so when people are valued based on their race, instead of their humanity, God is not present in the way God would like to be present. And so it is people like Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela who prepared a way for the Lord, by working to dismantle racism in their land.
But those are such big examples. Let’s try a more ordinary example. I want to tell you about my mom. My mom is a person who prepared the way of the Lord in my life. My mom taught me something that to this day I am forever grateful for. She always reminded me that you never know what’s going on in someone’s life. You never know the kind of day, week, or year that they have had. They might be having the worst day of their life. And so whenever I wanted to be angry at someone for cutting me off on the road or for how they spoke to me at school or for how they treated me at school, she always reminded me…you never know what is going on in someone’s life that is leading them to act that way. Jesus says to love your enemies. But I wanted to hate my enemies. I wanted to get them back somehow. And that prevented the love of Jesus, the compassion of God to get through to my heart. It was blocked. It is like if God were the blood flowing through my arteries, and my hatred and anger is the plaque that has built up and blocking the blood from flowing through. But when my mother would remind me of that crucial part – that I never know what is going on in someone’s life – suddenly, it was like this pathway opened up. It was like a stent was placed in my clogged artery. It was like a way had been prepared for God to come into my life, bringing the gifts of compassion and love and grace. So that I might love, and not hate, my neighbor, my enemy.
In a book that the mission committee is reading, there is a story about a congregation, Bethel Lutheran, that was putting together its guiding principles. It was deciding what would be the principles that they as a congregation felt God was calling them to live by. This is a lot like us coming up with our mission statement – Feeding Body, Mind, and Spirit with the love of Jesus. The principle that they came up with is Everyone is welcome and invited. Everyone is welcome and invited. The congregation voted unanimously 70 – 0 to make this their guiding principle. They printed this guiding principle up in the large letter and they hung it on the wall for all people to see. A couple of months later another local church that was involved in a ministry to the homeless where their church was actually a homeless shelter. But this church decided to do some remodeling, which meant for the time being they couldn’t be a homeless shelter. This churched asked Bethel if they would become the homeless shelter in town.
The council at Bethel was divided. Some people thought it was a good idea. Others thought it would bring smells and wear and tear on the church that no one would want. Others thought it would be dangerous to house people who were homeless. Debate dragged on and on, until one of the council members looked up saw the guiding principle that was printed large letters and framed on the wall. He said, “You know, it says right here that ‘Everyone is welcome and invited.’ It doesn’t say ‘except poor people.'” The room got quiet. The answer was literally written on the wall. Before that statement the pathway for God to come into the room was blocked. People were frightened and afraid, not wanting to let their neighbors in, until one person looked up and saw their guiding principle and suddenly a way was prepared for the Lord to come in that space. The council voted to house the homeless shelter.
Isn’t it interesting that we can prevent God from coming to us in the way that God wants to come. According to John, we have to prepare a way for the Lord to come.
Now, notice where this voice, this word of God, is coming from. The text says, a voice crying out in the wilderness. And it comes from a guy who looks kind of strange. He’s wearing camel’s hair for clothing, with a belt around his waist, and he eats bugs and honey for dinner. Not only is that strange to us, it would have been strange to the people back then too. It would have seemed out of place. If we trust this text, the word of God is not going to come from our churches and the pastors. It is not going to come from people like me. It is not going to come from our politicians or our celebrities or from all the other people we think are big deals.
The word of God is going to come from those in the wilderness. On the margins of society. From those you would least expect. It will come from people who might think are kind of strange. People society says is less than you. It is the voices in the wilderness that we are called to listen to. So if you want a word from God this Advent season, be alert to surprising messengers.
In Washington, D.C., a soup kitchen the volunteers paused for a word of prayer, much like they do at Meals of Hope at Trinity in Owatonna. And the cook led the prayer. She said, “Lord, Jesus, give us eyes to see. Help us not to miss you when you come through the line today.”
“God’s messengers are those who you least expect.”
A voice cries out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
In order to prepare a way, to build a new path, a new road, something has to change. That’s what the word repent means – to change. To reorient. To reroute your life.
What part of your life needs changing? Where do you need Christ to enter in, so that there might be more room for him and the gifts of love and compassion and grace that he brings?
Stop and ask yourself what damaging your life might be doing, by the things you do or don’t do. The pain that you may have caused; the untruths you have lived. And then reroute your life. Prepare a new way. It may not be easy, but it just might be God’s way of getting to you.
This Advent season is about preparing a way in our life for God to come a bring much needed to change to this world. And the voices that call us to that kind of preparation, that kind of change, will be the unexpected voices. It may come from the voices of that we want to silence. It may come from the silent protestors who won’t move to the back of the bus. It may come from the voices of those in prisoned. It might come from our family members. Or from council members.
Be alert for surprising messengers of God. And listen for the ways they call us to prepare the way of the Lord through change. The good news my friends is that God needs your help. God needs you to prepare a way. God can’t do it without you. Because if not you, then who?