|Photo Credit: Jim Forest on Flickr.com
Advent 2 A – 2016 – Prepare Ye the Way
Isaiah 11: 1-10
Matthew 3: 1-12
“Prepare Ye the Way of Lord, Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.
This is the way that your local group of singers from St. Luke’s started out our Music at St. Luke’s version of selections from Godspell last Spring. It starts with John the Baptist talking about the need to prepare for the coming of the Lord. John was the one who announced that one who was greater than he was coming. He was pointing away from himself, to announce the coming of the messiah. “The Kingdom of heaven has come near”, he says.
What was happening at this time that brought people so far out into the desert to the Jordan river to see this shaggy locust-eating, camel-hair wearing exceedingly intense man who ekes out an existence in the desert.
Those of us who went to the Holy Land four years ago know what the environment here looks like. It’s that part of the Jordan river which lies just North of the Dead Sea. In the days of John the Baptist, one would have to travel for a long day by foot, or by donkey through the desert to get to the Jordan River. When we travelled across the Jordan River and entered into the predominantly Isalmic Kingdom of Jordan, we passed a site which the Jordanians claim was where John the Baptist preached and baptized. John the Baptist is also considered a great prophet in the Islamic faith.
What was it that was drawing people to go to such extremes to journey from the comfort of their homes to listen to John?
And consider his message. It wasn’t a nice, fun, or comfortable message.
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. Get ready. Prepare the way. And the people are coming out from Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside in droves. What drove them? My answer is, it was the Spirit working in them. At the deepest level of their being, people want to build a relationship with their God and, when people are ready, they are willing to go through extremes to build it.
So how does one prepare the way for the Lord? John certainly has an answer for that.
Repent is his message. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near.”
Ok, now that word brings most people up short. Especially at this time of the year. How come we have this figure coming and disturbing our pre-Christmas planning with this severe message?
I had to go to the mall last week. Something which I am loath to do. I call shopping malls Babylon. It seems to have that feel to me. So I go to Babylon last week and I’m listening to Rudolph on the muzac over the P.A. system. There are fake evergreen garlands everywhere, strewn with tinsel and there is a monstrous great throne for Santa, who was mercifully absent. There are several residents on my street that have put up their outdoor Christmas decorations already. Everyone is Holly-jollying and here we have this voice crying out in the wilderness: repent! Won’t someone just give the man an egg-nog or some mulled wine or something and tone him down a little?
Repent? How does repentance fit in with the holiday season? First of all, let’s talk about the word. Most people seem to think that repentance is about feeling really badly about who you are, and about learning how to grovel in the dirt. They think it’s about judgement and guilt. This really isn’t very helpful because it doesn’t provide much of a solution or a way forward. Groveling more or less keeps you stationary, right there in the dust!
Repentance is something much more positive and active. It is about movement, about changing your direction and aligning your path with God’s will. Repentance is about renewal and relationship, rather than about shame. Repentance is about listening to the spirit which is the deepest part of your being which is calling your forward, just as it was calling all those people who walked through the wilderness to hear John.
Of course, there was a section of his audience that got a harsher message: it was the Pharisees – most likely there to check up on John, who was creating such an impact outside of the official Temple establishment rules and regulations. The establishment didn’t like anything happening which didn’t originate from the temple.
Still, no matter what congregation I have ever preached to, I’ve never felt the urge to call a group of them a brood of vipers! What an interesting hook!
But you, see, John’s wrath is directed at those who were stopping people from developing, from changing, from moving to deepen their faith. The Pharisees didn’t like change. They didn’t like anything outside of their control, and the Holy Spirit is certainly outside of any person’s control.
The symbolism of this baptism was incredibly important too. It was through the Jordan river that these people’s ancestor’s crossed to enter into the promised land. It was the way that they sealed the covenant with God, by being washed, by being made new and entering into the promise as a new people.
John’s audience knew that what they needed was renewal, so they trek back out to the Jordan river to be sealed into a new covenant. They didn’t know all of that at the time, but this is what they were entering into. A new relationship with God, for the Kingdom of God was near, in fact it was just around the corner.
And what about you? What is it that is drawing you forward? What newness are you seeking in your life? Sometimes the inner voice of the Holy Spirit is really small. Sometimes, it has been a long time since we have heard it, or remembered it is there, calling us forward. But it is certainly there. You who have been baptized have been sealed into a new relationship with God and the Holy Spirit is within you calling you forward into a deeper relationship with God.
So, during this season of Advent, during all the hustle and bustle and preparations for the biggest commercial season of the year, for heaven’s sake, take the time to put down the eggnog and listen to your deepest desire, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit and asking you to prepare. Repent: that is move forward, or change your direction in alignment with God’s will, for the kingdom of heaven has come near – it’s just around the corner. The Lord is coming, prepare his way and be ready to meet him! Amen.