Prepare a Highway
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.'” Luke 3:1-6
While yesterday’s food was important in bringing us to today, our bodies cannot be sustained on the food we ate yesterday. So it is with contact and communion with God. We need God to come each day with fresh supplies of saving love. And we need to allow Him to deliver on His promise to do so. And for this reason, we dare pray, today and every day, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!” “Come, Lord Jesus!”
In today’s gospel Luke says: “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness”
Luke wants us to know that the Word of God came to John at a specific moment in time. While the gospel is told in the large, deep and colorful timeless language of myth, metaphor and miracle, the gospel of Jesus Christ is no fairy tale or legend. It is the most important moment, the most significant hour and the most definitive event in the vast expanse of time that is the human story.
Yes, God came, in both a very ordinary way, born of a woman, and yet at the same time in a most extraordinary way. The extraordinariness of this birth is captured in the mythological language – born of a virgin. He was born at a particular moment in time. And He continues to come in ordinary and extraordinary ways, at particular moments in time. He comes often and He comes when we least expect it. This is the first point that Luke wants to make.
The gospel begs us to question our own expectations. Do we expect God to come into our lives today? Are we bold enough, in our faith, to expect nothing less, before we retire for the night? Do not the scriptures resound with the proclamation that now is the day of salvation? Now is the fullness of time? I believe that God will most certainly be seeking contact with each of us today. His love for us constrains Him to do so even as a Lover reaches out in the night.
And God comes in particular places, often in those places we would never imagine. Luke writes, “… the Word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”
The wilderness? Can you think of a more unlikely place? The Temple in Jerusalem, possibly, but not the wilderness. The Judean wilderness is nothing but rocks and sand and scrub bush. Yet, it was in the wilderness that John heard God’s voice calling his name and telling him that his cousin, Jesus, was the Promised Messiah.
That ought to tell us something about what WE can expect as WE look for signs of God’s coming. God often appears where WE least expect him. He appears n the apparently God forsaken places out there and also the seemingly God forsaken places in here. We can expect him to show up in our personal deserts. We can expect him to reveal himself in those dry and barren places. We can expect to meet him in those inner wastelands where we say NO to life, NO to faith, NO to hope, NO to forgiveness, NO to being forgiven, NO to love and NO to being loved.
Yes, God often appears in the most unlikely places and we need to be careful not to get locked into thinking that God can only appear in places that make sense to us.
God appears at specific times when we least expect him and in specific places we would never imagine. He also comes to specific individuals we would have never chosen.
Have you ever taken a close look at John the Baptist? Talk about an unlikely choice! Mark describes him in this way: ” John was clothed with camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey”.
Do a Google search on John the Baptist and click images. Most artists depict him with long hair and a beard – a sort of cross between the Neanderthal man and Willie Nelson! Who would have ever guessed that God would have chosen him to herald the coming of the Savior?
You could say God’s got a sense of humor. But then, we already know that, don’t we? Why, just look around. We’re the People of God? You’ve got to be kidding. Gracefully, God comes to the most unlikely people we can imagine, even to folks as unlikely as the likes of us.
In this season of Advent we are given an opportunity to attend to God’s coming into our lives each day. We learn again how to watch and to wait and to prepare for His daily visitation.
According to John, the way to do that is to build a highway fit for a king: “Prepare the way of God in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain. The glory of God shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of God has spoken it.”
Remember the old highways of the past … the steep hills, the hairpin turns, the dips and the bumps that could just about take the rear end out of a car? Well, the highway Isaiah envisions is like an Interstate highway on which God will make His entry. It’s a highway in which there’s nothing to get in His way, nothing to slow Him down, and nothing to hinder his arrival.
Are we more comfortable with erecting barricades? Are we willing to take stock of the barricades that we have put in place? The highway is a metaphor, of course. It has to do with either opening ourselves up, maybe for the first time, by opening the door of our mind and heart to a new possibility, or by renewing our devotion to God so completely that we’re willing to go all out to give him an unimpeded welcome. And the Good News is, in the very process of preparing for God’s coming, He welcomes us into His Kingdom.
There is a fable called, The King’s Highway. It tells the story of an elderly king who had no heir. So, one night he sent his servants out to place a pile of rubble on the road leading to his castle.
The next day he sent word that he was in search for a successor to the throne, and that whoever best traveled his road would be the next king. Wannabe kings came from far and near.
When they got to the pile of rubble, they grumbled and complained, but somehow they managed to get around it. All the while, the king watched from the castle.
Now, it just so happened that there was a young shepherd boy who also aspired to be king. His friends just scoffed when he told them. “The king will never pick you,” they said, “Why, you’re nothing but a peasant.” But the boy would not be discouraged and so, he headed out to see the king.
But when he got to the pile of rubble he stopped to clear the stones out of the way. To his surprise, when he got to the bottom of the pile, there was a beautiful gold ring bearing the king’s royal crest. The boy stuck it in his pocket and rushed to the castle.
“I’m sorry it is so late,” the boy whispered as he knelt before the king.
Then he reached in his pocket and pulled out the ring for the king to see. “I found this on the road,” he said, “I’m sure it must belong to you.”
The king examined the ring carefully. “This ring is not mine,” he announced.
“But it must be yours,” the boy said, “It bears your crest.”
“Indeed it does,” said the king, “but it is not mine. It belongs to the one who will be seated on my throne.” Then giving the ring back to the boy, he said, “It now belongs to you. I proclaimed that he who best traveled the highway would become the new king. By clearing the road so that all may travel safely, you showed that it is not fine clothing, fancy horses, or even great wealth that make a king. True greatness comes through serving others.”
Brothers and sisters, the Lord is coming. Let’s get busy while there’s still time to prepare a highway fit for a king.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
December 9, 2018