Someday I want to start a John the Baptist sermon daring someone to eat a locust. I’m sure that person would never forget that sermon. Fortunately for you all, today is not that day. But really, we focus on the locust detail and ugly camelhair clothes because the truth is we know very little about John the Baptist- who he was, or why he was out in the wilderness baptizing people.
But we read his story every year. Every Advent we hear him announce the news that God’s kingdom is at hand. We are to repent, and prepare the way of the coming Lord. This year, I am wondering: what does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord. What is it he is asking of us? In this season of Advent, as we wait and watch for the coming kingdom… what are we supposed to do in the meantime?
Well, the truth is that we do a LOT of preparing this time of year. We prepare our homes, we prepare the tree and the decorations. We prepare Christmas cards and party lists. We prepare by buying all the gifts we need to get,
by sharing special traditions,
by watching our favorite Christmas movies,
by eating our favorite cookies, and taking a glorious hiatus from dieting for a month or so.
Hopefully those of you on teams here are preparing your annual reports for our upcoming meeting. 🙂 It seems we make so many preparations this time of year, we are busier than ever. What more could John ask?
Or maybe we take a more spiritual approach to preparing. We prepare our homes by keeping daily Advent prayers. We prepare by giving more to charity and the mission of the Church this time of year.
Neither of these approaches are necessarily good or bad. I love this time of year and all the fun traditions that go along with it. But what happens if we don’t make these preparations? So what if we are not prepared? Will Jesus not show up? Maybe it’s the Lutheran in me, but I have to believe that Christ coming into our world does not depend on the things that we do. After all, Christmas comes whether you are prepared or not. And so I have to believe that God’s kingdom comes whether we are prepared or not.
The people of John the Baptist’s time were certainly not prepared for God’s coming kingdom. Luke spends a lot of details describing a time of turmoil. The 15th year of Tiberius’ reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor, who would later crucify Jesus. Herod and Philip were rulers, who slaughtered baby boys to ensure their continued power. Annas and Caiaphas were high priests during a time of religious instability. This was not a time to see God’s kingdom coming on Earth. The people in power, whose job it was to protect and serve the people were using power to oppress and silence others.
And yet, that was precisely the time that God’s word came. God’s new kingdom was coming, and it would be an age of peace and justice. And God works in such a way that when God speaks, it does something, whether or not we are prepared. It shows up in the most unexpected and small places. God’s word about the kingdom wasn’t proclaimed through the political rulers. It wasn’t proclaimed by the priests in the temple, or in the city.
The Word of God came to John, in the wilderness. John wasn’t anyone special. He wasn’t important, or in a position of power. The wilderness was a lifeless place. A place where people are lost or wandering. But the Word of God came to John there.
And he said, enough is enough. Time’s up. God’s reign is here. Enough with the injustice. Enough with the violence and the greed. The word of God came to John and he went out announcing Jesus and telling everyone the world was going to have to change. That the playing field would be leveled. He preached a message of repentance and forgiveness. John wasn’t anyone special, but his message threw all the systems of power under the bus. God was going to be in control, and God alone would bring justice. John spoke small words about love and forgiveness, and it changed the world forever.
Today we find ourselves in a similar place. Our world can seem just as violent and ugly as it did back then. We are tired of violence. We are tired of corrupt government and leaders. We are tired of shallow religion and empty promises. We are tired of messages of hatred and anger. It doesn’t seem like we are prepared at all for God’s kingdom to take hold here on Earth. But thank God that the kingdom comes whether we are prepared or not. It breaks through in the most unlikely and unexpected places and people.
So what does it mean to prepare the way? We get to be the voice crying out in the wilderness. We get to announce the good news of Christ to this hurting world. Even though we are lost in whatever wilderness we find ourselves in, the word of God comes to us THERE to bring good news.
It’s almost like Luke is writing our history today. In the 7th year of Obama’s presidency, when Chris Christy was still our governor… When Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were battling on stage for the White House. When Tracy bartholomew was our Bishop. when the world was struggling to deal with gun violence, racism, a refugee crisis, health issues and all kinds of moral bankruptcy in politics and economics….
The Word of God came to you. The Word of God came to the people of St. Mark. The word of God came on the streets of Hamilton, in the markets and coffee shops, and workplaces… in schools and in hospitals. And with this word, we announce that God’s kingdom is at hand. We get to preach a message that changes the world. A message that we’ve had enough of the violence. enough of the corruption. Enough of the shaming, and the judging. Enough of the ignorance and the hate.
We get to proclaim a message of love and grace. Of forgiveness and reconciling. We get to proclaim that God’s kingdom is at hand and it will transform everything into a time of peace and love and grace. It’s a message that will change the world. A message that will call the whole system of power and tragic status quo into question. A message that says although we find ourselves stuck in a wilderness of a system that perpetuates violence and poverty, salvation IS at hand. Christ is coming to make everything right.
We know this is true because we have seen Christ. We have received him in the meal. He is speaking to us through the word. We are his body gathered to be present in this world. He is with us now. John the Baptist came announcing Christ, and then Jesus burst onto the scene doing all of the things that were promised: healing, loving, forgiving, teaching, challenging, transforming.
Today we proclaim Christ’s coming, and even though he doesn’t show up wearing sandals, white robes and a beard that would make any hipster jealous, he still shows up today. And he is still doing all of the things that are promised. We find him in places of forgiveness, and love, and proclamations of truth and justice. Places where we find the kingdom breaking into our world.
So prepare the way of the Lord. Tell everyone. Christ is coming, and everything is going to change. And it’s going to be good. Although things seem so bad and hopeless at times, God’s kingdom comes whether we are prepared or not. Christ comes and loves us to the end, and will never let us go.