Introduction and Call to Worship
Prepare the way of the Lord! We think today about how we prepare for the coming of Jesus, and John the Baptist’s ministry as “a voice crying in the wilderness”.
First Reading Baruch 5:1-9
The prophet offers words of hope to an oppressed people and promises that Israel will be re-clothed and will live in the light of God’s glory.
Or Malachi 3:1-4
God is sending his messenger to prepare the way for his coming.
Second Reading Philippians 1:3-11
Paul from prison gives thanks for the fellowship of those at Philippi and encourages them to live pure and blameless lives, ready to meet Christ.
Gospel Luke 3:1-6
Luke’s introduction to the ministry of John the Baptist – preparing the way for the coming of Jesus.
HOMILY “Prepare the way of the Lord.” (Luke 3:4)
There’s no substitute for preparation! A successful outcome is usually dependent on thorough organisation. As I know our team behind the Tower pointing works would testify, preparation is essential for a successful outcome.
Similarly, as I am sure David and Lionel would agree that musicians can only give a worthy performance when years have been spent on practice and developing skills, and hours in rehearsals. An artist may well have several sketches and outlines prior to the execution of the final painting. We can also reflect upon the London Olympics not so long ago. A sportsperson can only give their best in a competition when fitness and training schedules have been completed. Preparation is essential, spending time in training, getting ready to ‘run the race that is set before us’ (to paraphrase St Paul), just like our 2012 Olympic athletes.
You may think I have somewhat laboured my point, but you see that’s exactly where John the Baptist comes in. The rather precise and somewhat elaborate dating for the work of John, given by Luke at the start of his Gospel account, serves to set the ministry of John in the context of world history. Furthermore, the dating also introduces characters such as Pilate, Herod and the high priests who are going to play a significant role in the story of Jesus. Then, having set the scene, Luke emphasises three things about John:
He was a holy man called by God in the wilderness.
He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
He was the one who prepared the way for the Lord.
John’s message is delivered bluntly, without theatricals, in the wilds or wilderness – a place which can seem remote and unfruitful (spiritually understood as dark; a place of temptation) but also, a place where God can be found, away from the distractions of the world (something Anthony of Egypt and other Desert Fathers and Mothers would have understood well). Luke concentrates on the message (rather than the attire and diet) that John has been called to proclaim. John the Baptist’s ministry is a direct result of the word of the Lord coming to him, echoing the activity and authority of the prophets of old.
The sign and seal of this message of repentance is baptism: the cleansing action of the water the symbol of new life and a change of heart and mind which opens the very soul to receive the message of Jesus. The purifying nature of water in John’s ministry becomes a precursor of the promise of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ teaching. Today we understand that in the act of baptism we are welcomed into the body of Christ (the Church) and therein, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we grow in faith – we start a new journey with God.
So it is that today we recognise baptism as the marker of our faith journey and unity with other Christians, and baptism prepares us for the life long journey of faith, in the wilderness of this world with all its lures and temptations. Even with all the darkness we see around us – sin, wars, recession, oppression and so much more – we must remember this is God’s world and he is not absent from it! Far from it! So John proclaims at the top of his voice, “Prepare the way of the Lord, and all people will see the salvation of our God!” My friends that must be our call to the world today: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!’
We are aware of the need for practical preparations for Christmas, and of course Winter Wonderland later today! But what about spiritual preparation? The essential ingredient in John’s preaching was the call for repentance – a change of heart and mind. It is true that in baptism we went through the waters to be cleansed from all sin and born again, but since then, we have probably made a mistake or two along the way...and then some! We can so easily get caught up in a way of life that is less than we would wish or desire. Living every day fully is important, indeed essential – we may call this ‘living in the world” – but the Christian call is to do it without being of the world. That difference is right at the heart of John’s message.
The season of Advent offers the opportunity to change things round: to look at ourselves and our behaviour in the light of God’s loving forgiveness, to check that we are in and not of the world! This is all part of our mission as disciples today, taking our faith into our work, home and communities, being Christians among others. This is our baptismal pledge. Following the example of John the Baptist, we are encouraged to prepare for the coming of Jesus by refocusing our hearts and minds on him and the love that he shows. John’s preaching challenges us to look beyond the immediate and to be alert to the qualities which really matter and which can transform our lives. So, let’s prepare the way of the Lord! Amen.
Success requires preparation. We may think of musicians, plumbers and builders, athletes and many other examples. Our faith is the same.
John the Baptist is called by God to prepare the way for Jesus.
John challenged us from the wilds of the wilderness to repent and be ready to receive Jesus.
Advent offers the opportunity to refocus our lives in the light of Jesus’ coming, reminding us of our baptismal pledge to turn from sin to Christ.