Advent 2 – Forerunners
…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke makes it very clear; of the Emperor Tiberias, the Governor Pontius, three regional rulers – Herod, and his brothers Philip, and Lysanius, there’s no shortage of people in charge! Yet we know that for the citizens of their regions, it’s simply the same stuff, different day! That is of course until some locust eating, camel’s hair clothed “crazy man” begins raising Cain on the outskirts of town. (And) As long as he remains on the outskirts, the rulers of the day don’t quite know what to make of him. They know that he is John, the son of old man Zechariah the priest and his elderly wife Elizabeth. They know that he hails from the wilderness area in the region of Judea stretching eastward from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, some 20 barren miles of rugged hills and valleys, down towards the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. They also know that in spite of the journey their own constituents seem to be making every effort to go meet this son of Zechariah in order that they might hear what he has to say. Who is this son of Zechariah? What makes others flock to be in his presence? How might his popularity affect not only perceived authority and influence of the current rulers but of the constituents as well? On an ordinary day these questions aren’t all that unusual? However, upon further inquiry the rulers find instead an itinerant “preacher” speaking of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He even goes so far as to provide some Mikvah type ritual as an outward representation for those who desire to be “renewed” before the eyes of God. Again, this is not so unusual and seemingly harmless. Except that, he also tags his message of baptism with a message of preparation for the way of the Lord who is coming for the salvation of his people. For the benefit of the hearers they are urged to make that way of preparation a straight one. Although his words sound familiar to the prophetic voices in the Hebrew Scriptures, hearing them from the mouth of this “modern day” eccentric left some with more questions than answers about the one chosen to be the savior of God’s people. Now it’s been a while since the word of God had come to anyone. If, as the scripture reveals all flesh shall see (look upon, gaze at, come face to face with) the salvation of God, is it possible that the son of Zechariah himself could be the one prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures? When asked by the community leaders of the region, he himself denies it as his voice continues to cry out in the wilderness. However being the peripatetic preacher that he is, it is impossible for his cries to remain on the outskirts, but eventually reaches the larger masses of biblical Palestinian life.
Today, it’s not unusual to see people on the street screaming at passersby; “Jesus Christ is the way! Repent! Are you ready for Christ return? Usually we just keep walking and perhaps mumbling over our thoughts about how this person is crazy, mentally ill or both. Isolated encounters at best, by the time we get where we are going we’ve pretty much forgotten about the brief event. But you certainly can’t argue that there might be something in the message. Although we cannot compare our wilderness preacher of the first century with those we see today proselytizing or “prophesizing” on the street, you have to wonder if God intersects our busy lives through the year with these occasional voices to give us an opportunity to re-evaluate our own life circumstances and ask ourselves are we ready? Are we prepared for Christ’s return? Unfortunately, those aren’t the only voices of which we pay little attention. That is of course until some event ultimately occurs in our society that forces us to consider the things of which we are really prepared.
Particularly, in the past two months we have had some devastating events. Two of which provide contrasting levels of our state of preparation, for such occurrences. The first of which is the recent natural disaster of hurricane Sandy, which hit the New Jersey coastline. While it is always difficult to predict the severity of damage that may or may not occur, as a society we have developed the tools that not only prepare us for the possible timing of storms of such magnitude, but also it’s probable direction. These advances in our society are a gift for us. They act as the forerunners, which give us some time to make preparations that in many instances saves our lives. However, what was the forerunner for a more recent devastating event, which happened at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut? This is not the first time for such a tragedy and yet when it happens on such a large or small scale we always seem to find ourselves unprepared for such tragic human acts as the killing of six adults and 20 innocent children? Far too often we only fully understand it long after it’s happened and left with the often stated “This kind of thing never happens in our town.” However, if we consider the South African concept of Ubuntu, which says if it happens to one it happens to all, that statement no longer makes sense and we need to begin to understand and prepare for the reality that what we once thought of as a marginalized event will eventually reach every part of our society. Could we have stopped hurricane Sandy? No. But the tools we have at least gives us an opportunity to be better prepared for what we believe is about to happen. Could we have stopped a troubled misguided person from taking innocent lives? We may never know. But we must always consider how well the tools we have in place are at the very least serving to minimize the outcome regardless of where it happens. If a tool or system in our home stops working or becomes inadequate, who among us hesitates to find another tool or system?
My message today isn’t about what we can and cannot control in this life. Rather, in keeping with the proclamation of John the Baptist, it’s about understanding that our individual realities affect our societal realities. It’s about understanding that the straight path meets with those realities, (physical, emotional, natural, and spiritual) face to face. So too in the same way, Christ desires to meet with us face to face. Luke’s story of John’s message of the coming Messiah helps us to understand that the journey to Christ is a path of mountain highs and valley lows made straight by our conscious preparation for what is promised by the voices of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. As we all know life itself is not without its wilderness moments especially during this time of the year. Perhaps our wilderness doesn’t look like John’s, but his ministry is an empowering image for each of us who struggles to hear, even as the wilderness of our individual lives continue to expand with more and more people trying to control the various connecting circles in which we live. Ultimately, in an over stimulated society inundated with a plethora of social electronic access, sometimes we have to be that voice in the wilderness that questions and challenges those areas of preparedness which collectively affect our lives. However, we can be encouraged that it was in the wilderness that the word of God came to John. We have tools and systems in place to help us be more prepared for the tragedies of the physical world. God is asking no less of us in our relationship with him today and the reconciliation he promises to have with us upon the coming of Christ return. Are we prepared? How many forerunners do we need to have today before we hear what the scripture is really saying? Let the proclamation stand:
“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.”