Baruch 5:1-9 Canticle 4 (Luke 1:68-79) Philippians 1:3-11 Luke 3:1-6
“Come, Lord Jesus!” we pray in this season of Advent.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Jesus is coming; that much we know. So what is it that we have to do to meet Jesus? Nothing. That’s right. To meet Jesus we have to do absolutely nothing. We do not have to put up a tree, hang Christmas lights, sing carols, or send fruitcake to relative we rarely see and barely remember. We do not have to send out cards, “deck the halls,” or watch Christmas movies. Christmas is coming. Christ will come … and will come again.
To prepare to meet Jesus we have to do … nothing. Who is Jesus, anyway? Writer William Herzog writes that “The Word of God came to a nothing son of a nobody in a godforsaken place” (New Proclamation 2006). The Word of God, that’s Jesus, “came to a nothing son of a nobody in a godforsaken place.” Why on earth do we need to prepare for that?
We NEED to do nothing to prepare for Jesus. Jesus meets us yesterday, today and forever, exactly where we are. Jesus meets us in joy, in sorrow, in depression, in angst, and in our preparation for Christmas. Jesus meets us in other people; in the everyday fabric of our lives. Jesus meets us right where we are. Jesus meets us whether we notice him or not.
It would appear that John the Baptist did nothing to prepare to meet Jesus. He wore a garment of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. John the Baptist was in the desert, the wilderness, a place of chaos and fear, a place that civilized people left long ago. When John was in the desert “the word of God came to him.” Hear that:“The word of God came to him;” it sounds rather passive on John’s part. John didn’t DO anything – the word of God, in Greek, “egeneta,” happened to him; the word of God happened to this unusual man named John. And so changed was John after the word of God came to him that John stayed in the wilderness and baptized people. “Mine is a baptism of water,” says John, “but one is coming who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And about this son of nobody from nowhere? John says that he is not worthy to tie the sandals of that man’s feet.
John the Baptist makes us uneasy. Brian Taylor very recently described John as a “loud, inconvenient voice in the tender season of Advent.” He’s loud: “repent!” he says. He’s inconvenient: he is this weird guy in the desert telling us to stop shopping and to prepare – well, not quite.
When we hear about John the Baptist we are reminded of someone else. John the Baptist being in the wilderness is supposed to remind us of Moses. Moses brought his people through the wilderness, although it took him forty years. And on the edge of the promised land, Moses died. Moses saw his people right up to the moment of reaching what God had promised, and Moses did not get to see its fulfillment. Moses stayed there, on the edge of the promised land. We say that Moses was a “liminal” person for his people, bringing them to the edge of something new. Now John is in the wilderness, preaching about the One who is to come. John is a “liminal” person to us, living physically on the edge of what was promised to Moses in the desert, and living spiritually on the edge of the coming of Jesus. This character John is on the edge of what is and of what is to come.
In who or what is to come the prophesies of Isaiah and Baruch will be fulfilled: mountains will be toppled and valleys will be filled up. The way will be level, straight, “so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” What does it take to level a mountain, to fill up a valley …? We are accustomed to driving on highways that wind their way through mountains; we see great walls of rock on either side of us. We travel on bridges that cross over valleys, canyons, and huge expanses of water. The earth is made low, or raised up, as we need it to be for safe travel. We see but one small section of a road. What does that “making level” mean for a whole highway system across an entire country? What might it mean for every person to have their path made straight, our way through life made safe and level? The gospel of Jesus Christ IS that expansive, that big, that widespread.
Preacher Fred Craddock tells us how far-reaching is this Gospel of Jesus Christ: “On its way from Jerusalem to Rome, (as Luke unfolds the account in Acts,) the Gospel will not only encounter the poor, lame, halt, and blind, but also the synagogue rulers, high priests, governors, kings, treasurers, city officials, leading women, philosophers of Athens, captains of ships, imperial guards, and finally the emperor himself (Preaching through the Christian Year C).”
Here we are on the edge of what is, Advent, and the edge of what is to come, Christmas. If we were physically on the edge of a cliff, we would want to prepare, to be ready for what might come. We might stay safely on the precipice … or we might dive off the edge into a wild unknown. We might want to have shoes that grip, a rope to hold, a rock under our feet, … a baptism of repentance under our belt.
You see, the gospel does not come just to a place. The Good News comes to a people. Fred Craddock is telling us that the gospel comes to all of us. The gospel is available to those who matter to society, and to those who do not. Salvation in Jesus, this Jesus who is coming to us as a vulnerable human baby, is available to every one of us.
Jesus’ presence is that transforming. The blind see. Lame people walk. The entire structure of temple – the political, social and economic structure of the temple and the temple that is our lives – is overturned. Overturned. For such transformation we might want to try to prepare. And I wonder if we can actually prepare for such a change in our lives. John the Baptist did not feel worthy to tie the sandals on Jesus’ feet. Where does that leave you and I?
It is in that question that I find the waiting part of Advent. Where am I in this story? How and when and where will I meet Jesus? Will I be ready? I am thinking that I need to prepare …
And it is in that same question the hope in Advent, in this time of waiting, of being in a liminal place, of already knowing that Jesus comes to everyone. Because if Jesus came to John and to Bethlehem and to rulers and empires – well, maybe Jesus will come to me. Maybe Jesus will show up in my life; maybe I will see him in the manger. Maybe this time I will recognize the gifts that I bring and the gifts that I have been given. Maybe I will remember to be thankful, to fall to my knees and pay homage to a child King.
He’s not here yet, but He’s coming. I think I’d better get ready.
Come, Lord Jesus!