To prepare his ways


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To prepare his ways

Luke 1:68-79
1:68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
1:69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
1:70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
1:71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
1:72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
1:73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
1:74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
1:75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."


I must confess—and this is something I’ve said before—I have a weakness for preaching about John the Baptist. He’s a Wildman. He’s somebody that if you saw him standing at the front door that you’d either leave the chain on or you’d maybe just look on out through the peep hole and hope that he’d go away.

When we meet him as an adult at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he’s out preaching in the wilderness. He’s calling his congregation a brood of vipers, which is something guaranteed to get the PPR chair a phone call or two. He wears camel’s hair clothing with a leather belt and leaves on grasshoppers and wild honey. A PPR chair could use this.

“Well, he might be calling us vipers, but he works cheap. He doesn’t waste money on clothing. We don’t want to mess with that.”

But that is John the Baptist as an adult. Today’s scripture is his father Zechariah’s prophecy immediately following John’s birth.

And Zechariah is full of hope. His son John is to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Zechariah is proud of this.

There have been many reputable scholars who’ve made deep historical study of what the conditions of the era in which Jesus and John lived. Yet, quite frankly I don’t know which of them I believe and so I am going to use my imagination.

I am going to imagine John’s father and mother were very much like me and my wife Jean, middle class folks. They have this baby John late in life and they already have lives. They’ve got a little money put back, and they’ve lived long enough to have a clue or two about how the world works. It has been miraculously revealed to them that John is going to pave the way for the Messiah, and they’ve got a little scenario outlined in their heads. Send him off to college. Get him a job at the temple. He’d work his way up the ladder. Acolyte, assistant priest, associate priest, full priest, assistant Chief priest, associate Chief priest, and then finally Chief Priest. Then from that position their son would be able to prepare the way for the messiah.

As parents they’d make sure that John had all the right lessons, they’d make sure he was in the right play groups, and they’d make sure he was invited to the right birthday parties.

They would prepare the way so their son could prepare the way.

Yet, at some point this plan would have gone off track, because that is not how it happened. This child of the middle class went off the rails and is preaching to folks he refers to as vipers out in the wilderness. His parents go to visit and he puts some parched grasshoppers on a terra cotta plate and they wash it down with some goat’s milk. This was not what they had in mind, but it was God’s plan.

God’s imagination is better than yours is. That’s just a fact. He’s got things planned for you that’d make your hair stand on end.

Those of you who know me are aware that I follow the creation versus evolution debate. I’ve gotten to the point where I like to argue with both sides just for the sport of it. They usually get a young-earth creationist for the creation side and a fire-breathing atheist from hell for the evolution side. There are those on the evolution side who will point out how poorly the eye is designed. It would be more efficient if it were done this way or that way.

I lose patience with this argument. I’ll pay more attention when they can design an eye of any quality that can put itself together out of oatmeal and apple juice.

My point is God’s plans for us are more subtle than we can imagine.
Yet we are called upon to prepare the way for his Son to come into our lives. We can’t imagine what he truly has in store, and yet we must prepare the way.

In times like these my advice is to keep it simple. The scripture in reference to John the Baptist consistently follows the metaphor of building a royal road. How do you build a road? You take baskets of dirt from the places it’s too high and you put it in the places where it is too low.
It’s a simple metaphor. It’s visual. We can grasp it.
How do we apply it?

Take some money from where there is too much—say your bank account—and give it to someone who has too little—say a hungry child.
Take some time from where you are spending too much—say from in front of the TV—and give it too a place where you are spending too little—say volunteer work.

I am thinking that you get the idea.

You have to be careful, though. It’s simple, but you will be surprised where you wind up. God’s imagination is a lot better than yours.