You might recall from last week that advent is a time of active waiting, where “how” we wait is just as important as “who” we are waiting for. We talked about the importance of being intentionally present, living life fully and faithfully in the moment, right now, as a means to draw us nearer to Christ. Thus Jesus warned us to stay alert, for we do not know the time when the Lord will come. This week, it’s John the Baptist’s turn to awaken us with a little cold water, so to speak.
Each of the gospels use the words of the prophet Isaiah to describe John as a voice, crying out from the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. He is the one who teachers us “how” we prepare is just as important as “who” we are preparing for. Are you seeing a pattern here?
If you want to put Christ back into Christmas, then you must be prepared to be like him; to prepare yourself to be the presence of Christ for Christmas.
Again the lectionary doesn’t begin his Christmas story with angels whispering in Mary’s ear or shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. Instead, ite drags us outside, deep into the wilderness where bandits gather and thieves hide. It takes us way out there to meet an odd character who rants and raves to anyone who will listen. Some recognized him as a priest. Others saw him as a madman.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes him like this. “Dressed in animal hair with a piece of tanned hide around his waist, his breath heavy with locusts and wild honey, John proclaimed that someone was coming, someone so spectacular that it was not enough simply to hang around waiting for him to arrive. It was time to get ready, to prepare the way, so that when he came he could walk a straight path right to their doors.”
It’s time to get ready and to prepare a path that will lead God right into our hearts! This is the good news. Our Emmanuel, God with us, is coming to meet us. God desires to walk with us, and to heal our brokenness and to wash us clean of all that we have done wrong. God wants to give us a fresh start so we can truly thrive in God’s will and not merely flounder in our own.
“John was a messenger-predicted by Isaiah, dressed like Elijah, sent by God- a prophet in the classic mold.” His message is to the point: Repent. Come clean and turn back to God. Be prepared, not just to welcome Christmas, but to welcome Christ, our Emmanuel, God’s great gift to us.
Why then does it take a fire or natural disaster to remind us of this important message?
To live faithfully in Christ’s divine love is to remain open and present to receive God anytime, day or night. It was Jesus who taught us to recognize God in the hearts of every created being. We must stay alert and prepare to do the same, to give God’s love away to anyone who needs it. We must straighten the curves and rough places in life so others can walk with God, and find forgiveness and become new again.
Just as students have to be ready to meet the demands of a teacher who has prepared lessons for the week, we too must be ready to face the test and challenges of life whenever they pop up. It’s like preparing a grocery list to ensure you have all the right ingredients needed to create and enjoy a heavenly feast.
It’s prophets like John who instruct us in our preparations. For example, Micah tells us to “practice justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” Ezekiel says, “Turn away from your transgressions, and get a new heart and spirit.” And Isaiah declares, “Wash the blood off your hands. Remove evil from your heart and do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” The list goes on and on.
You see why people often tend to avoid these guys. “They’re much like those evangelists you might see standing on busy street corners waving their Bibles at you,” condemning you to hell, fire and damnation unless you repent in a way that is to their liking. They get right in your face, and the only way to avoid them is to cross the street or turn around and go another way.
But John was different. “He planted himself in the middle of nowhere, far away from the churches and old ways of doing things. Anyone who wanted to hear what he had to say had to go to a lot of trouble to get there.” They had to get out of bed, and hike through rough terrain, put their life at risk. What were they seeking? Or better yet, what did they expect to find or do once they got there?
As Taylor points out, it seems “People were drawn to John not only because of who he was and what he said…but also because of what he offered them: a chance to come clean, to stop pretending they were someone one else and to start over again, by allowing him to wash them off.”
Yes, far off the beaten trail, John was preparing the way for God to come and radically redefine the world through the forgiveness of sin. This is the path that leads us all back to the heart of God… where Christ’s love was born. This is the Christmas story.
Today that voice still cries out in our wilderness; calling us to wake up and come clean; “to turn around from the old way we do things so we don’t miss out on seeing the new thing God is doing right before our eyes.”
This is why being active and present in this moment is so important. Through Christ’s death our past is washed clean. Through Christ’s resurrection our future is handled. And through Christ’s and by his examples we know what to expect right here, right now. The divinely wrapped gift of everlasting love, peace, and joy.
Christ has come, breaking into our world, into our longing, into our sin and death, to prepare an eternal path that leads us all back home. As we wait, let us be the presence of Christ. Let us tune our ear to the voices crying out for mercy. Let us be ready to touch the hand in need of human tenderness. Let us always be prepared to bring relief to a heart in need of love.
This is our pathway to God and peace in the world. But we have to be willing and prepared to meet Christ in others. It begins by going to the wilderness, looking at the chaotic water and seeing the reflection of Christ within you.
When Christ is alive in each one of us, then Christ will always be present, be it Christmas Day or every day.
Inspiration from this message and accompany quotes are from a sermon entitled Wherever the Way May Lead. Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”