Advent 2 Luke 3:1-6 How do we prepare a way for the Lord? By The Rev. Liz Klein
Good morning and a warm welcome to each one of you online and here in the sacristy this morning. Thank you for welcoming me as your new deacon. I want us to begin with a big cleansing breath. Take a big breath in. Let the spirit run through you. Let it out. Take another breath in and breath out all that worries you. We are so blessed to have this sacred time to dwell in God’s word, the Good News. I pray that we would allow this Good News to dwell in our hearts and minds so we can hear the words of John the Baptist, and prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus.
We hear this familiar Gospel from Luke. John went into the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Zechariah’s son was shaking things up in Judea. John’s unusual style drew crowds out to the wilderness east of the Jordan, where he was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3) I have a lot of questions after hearing this Gospel and maybe you do too.
John the Baptist was unorthodox in his preaching, his manner, his clothing, and lifestyle. People small and great wondered about him. John’s preaching reminded the people that the Messiah was coming. The ordinary folk considered John a prophet sent by God, but the Jewish leadership had questions and concerns. I wonder if this is one of the reasons that so many leaders are mentioned at the beginning of the Gospel reading today.
I wonder why John preached in the wilderness, why not Jerusalem? The wilderness is largely unpopulated—People had to travel to hear him. Throughout Israel’s history, the wilderness has been a place where God has shaped his people. It is the place where the nation Israel was forged. Prophets did much of their work in the wilderness. Jesus was also tested in the wilderness. God works in the wilderness of our lives today. I know that I am more open to hearing God’s word when life seems most barren. How about you? Parts of the Pandemic have been lonely and barren and have seemed like the wilderness for many.
John speaks of the need for baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. I wondered if this idea of baptism was a totally new concept to the people at the time of John. I learned that the people listening to John were probably already familiar with two kinds of baptism: the baptism by which Gentile converts became Jews and then began a whole new way of life; and the ritual washings that the Qumran community understood as cleansing them, but only if they turned from their sins and obeyed God. Both types called for changed behavior. John’s baptism of repentance does too. Repentance (Greek metanoia) is not mere regret for past misdeeds. It means far more than saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Metanoia means a change of mind and heart, the kind of inner transformation that bears visible fruit. It means turning around and going in a new direction. I experienced this most recently with my hard work understanding racism and the part that I had played knowingly and unknowingly.
John proclaims a baptism of repentance that leads to release from sins. The release or forgiveness that follows repentance does not undo past sins, but it does unbind us from them. Before a king made a journey to a distant country, the roads he would travel were improved, made straight, leveled and smoothed. John is calling for a preparation for the Messiah, which focused on repentance and forgiveness of sin and the need for a savior. John calls us to repent as the way of preparing our hearts for the Lord’s visit.
How do we prepare and make ready a way of the Lord? Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord. The lighting of the 2nd candle on the Advent wreath this week reminds us to prepare. When John calls Israel (and us) to make the Lord’s paths straight, he is telling us to remove any obstacles that stand in the way of us honoring and loving God. What kind of obstacles might those be? The misuse of sex, money, alcohol and drugs. What about our quest for power, excessive anxiety, greed etc. What are the mountains that need to be made low? What are the valleys that need to be filled and the roads made straight? Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace requires overturning the world as we know it. John quotes the prophet Isaiah to describe the earthshaking transformation that must take place. There are so many mountains and hills and valleys in our lives. What are the obstacles, the mountains and valleys that prevent us from living the life God wants us to live?
Let me give you an example from the last week. I was walking up in the Mount Hood National Forest last weekend. It was beautiful, green and peaceful. I had to walk along the road for a short distance. I noticed that some car drivers waved and gave me plenty of space and others did not create any space for me to walk in, practically pushing me off the road. Initially, I was quite irritated. Because I do the Daily Examen, I am more easily able to gently evaluate my feelings, thoughts and actions. I began to wonder why some people gave me space and others did not. I wonder if some people have never walked on a road with cars before and do not realize the danger. I also realized that I did not want to be irritable as I was enjoying the beauty of the mountains with amazing trees, beautiful, lush green moss and birds singing. So, I prayed for those who gave me space and those that did not. It sounds so simple, but it changed my attitude, my hike and my day. It was a way for me to be more loving and kind as I believe God wants me to be, and more open to the holy happening all around me.
As I continued walking along the Salmon River, I noticed a new sign about fly fishing. It said, “Catch and Release Fishing only. No bait allowed. Only wild fish are present. Please treat them kindly.” I was really struck by this sign. Yes, let us treat the fish kindly and everyone and everything kindly. Alone, I might not be so kind. It is because of the love of God and God’s good news of Jesus that I can be kind, that the brokenness of the world can be healed and that I can pray for drivers that almost run me off the road. It is because of the love of God that we each can be healed and live more fully the life that we are intended to live, repent, turn around, be kind and love others. John proclaims the good news of Jesus, God’s promise, and our hope.
Preparing for God’s arrival means rethinking systems and structures that we see as normal, but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked. It means letting God humble everything that is proud and self-satisfied in us, and letting God heal and lift up what is broken and beaten down. John calls us to let God reshape the world’s social systems and the landscape of our own minds and hearts. People of Grace, you are preparing for God’s arrival by caring for and lifting up the unhoused, the poor and the hungry on our streets. You inspire me. I think the real goal of the church is to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord. This is the work of the Spirit. We contribute to the Spirit’s work in many ways—especially by prayer and by preparing our hearts to receive the Lord. It means being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world and feeding those who are hungry, advocating for laws to protect our environment, and helping those who are unhoused.
As you light the 2nd candle on the Advent wreath this week, Let us get on with preparing the way for Jesus in our hearts, our minds and in our world. Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
I will conclude with a question for us to ponder this next week. What do we need to lift up or bring down or change in ourselves to be more prepared for the coming of the Lord?