Prepare the way of the Lord. This is, in a nutshell, is the work of advent. Prepare for the coming of the Lord. This is what the voice of one crying out in the wilderness is calling to us to do, pleading for us to do, to prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. Repent. Makes God’s path into our hearts straight, unimpeded. Get ready, because God is going to turn everything upside down.
God is turning everything upside down. Maybe it’s better to say that God will take our upside-down world and turn it right-side-up.
Every valley is going to be raised up. Every mountain flattened, every inequity erased. The crooked made straight and the rough places smooth. The translation of the Bible called the Message translates these familiar words as “the detours will be straightened out and all the ruts paved over.”
The voice crying out is John the Baptist’s voice. This evening’s psalm is the song of praise uttered by John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, when John was born.
Luke writes that Zechariah was filled with the holy spirit. He first praised God for God’s ancient promise made to Abraham – that we have been rescued by God. And then Zechariah speaks directly to the infant.
I have an image in my mind of Old Zechariah – he and John’s mother Elizabeth were both very old – of old Zechariah holding this unexpected baby in his arms, singing his song of praise for the surprising advent of this child, and then looking down into the face of baby John as he says:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
John the Baptist was a prophet. And the thing about prophets is that they do God’s bidding and speak God’s truth. John proclaimed repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Repentance. To repent is to acknowledge that we are not perfect. Not one of us.
We are all sinners. The word sin has so many connotations these days that don’t really have much to do with what John was talking about, that we should pay it some attention. I think of sin as something that keeps us from connecting with God and with what God wants for this world. Sin is a turning away from God, and repentance is a turning toward God.
The Greek word for repent is metanoia which roughly means to think differently. It is a change of mind and change of action. A change from sin toward loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We acknowledge our sin, our shame, our need. We stop taking detours around God. We get out of the ruts that blind us to God’s love.
Remember, repentance is not a one way street. It is repentance for the forgiveness of sin, a turning toward God so we can accept God’s forgiveness and unconditional love – so that we can claim a forgiveness and love that is eternally offered to us.
This is how we prepare the way of the Lord, how we open ourselves to the advent of Christ.
I receive daily reflections from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an episcopal monastic order in Boston. This week I read this
“It’s terribly important how we understand ourselves in relation to God, in the face of our sin and the evil we do and that is done on our behalf. God’s purpose is not to condemn us for the evil we do, but to change evil into opportunities for good.”
This quote expands what we must acknowledge to ourselves and to God.
As I read Zechariah’s song, I hear his words directed to me, to us. You child, we children of God, are called to be prophets of the most high. Doing God’s will, speaking God’s truth. Secure in the knowledge that nothing can cause God to cease loving us, we repent for our own sin and that which is done on our behalf. This is a big proposition.
Like the prophet John we live in a wilderness. We live in, and we are entangled in a world filled with evil done in our name – war, economic disparity, abuse of our fragile island home, the earth.
But God does not ask us to remove ourselves from this world. Just the opposite. God loves this world and we are asked to broaden our horizon of consideration and concern. We are to love ourselves, one another, and the world as God does.
We turn toward those in the wilderness of hunger, fear, in the darkness of loneliness and mental illness, and in the shadow of death. I see our community doing just this as we take part in sponsoring Syrian Refugees, as we donate to the food bank and feed the hungry in our large Park Room, as we speak out for peace rather than violence, as we stand up to injustice, even when that injustice provides economic benefits for us the affluent west.
We are meant to be voices crying out in the wilderness.
Today’s reading reminds me of one famous prophet. Martin Luther King was a prophet who cried out in the wilderness. He was preparing the way of the lord. He preached the words found in today’s Gospel in in his famous I have a dream speech as he looked forward to a time of racial equality in the United States –
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
He longed for and was confident in the hope of the upside-downing, right-side-upping of work of God.
We are in advent, in anticipation of Jesus’ coming. We prepare to celebrate Jesus birth, the first coming, the en-fleshment of God among us. We await the mysterious second coming when God’s kingdom will have no end. As Rev. Darrell Johnson preached last week, we can’t imagine what that will look like. We’ll just have to wait and see.
But there is another advent. I’ve heard it referred to as a third advent. It is the daily advent of Christ in our lives. This is the God that many of us are most in touch with, most connected to. I am aware of Jesus of the past and the hope of the future, but I pray to God in the present, in the here and now. Every morning, God greets us in our new day.
Every morning we are called into the promise of God and called into preparing the way of the Lord, just as Zechariah’s song says. We name Zechariah’s song the Benedictus, a canticle which is part of our morning prayer liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, and an option for use in the BAS.
Every morning we can say – or sing – this canticle, and in doing so we are reminded that God has redeemed us, and that we are called to be prophets of the most high and prepare the way of the Lord.
I quote Br. Mark Brown.
“We live in the meantime between the first and second coming of Christ, we live in what we call the present. What we are to become, what we are becoming through the ‘daily visitation’ of the Holy Spirit, animates us, transforms us even now. This happens not only in lives attuned to God, aware of God. It happens on a larger, even global scale. This vision of a new order, of all things set right, is at work in the world even now,” and we participate in that work.
“In Advent we contemplate the one who was, who is and who is to come; the one whose vision of what is to be, what we are to become, is at work in us even now. We worship the One who came, but who is still here. The one who is to come, but who is here already. Time present, time past, time future—three layers of time, bound together in God.”
The time to prepare is always now. The right time and place are always here and now. It is always advent.
Prepare the way of the Lord.