Advent 2C, December 5, 2015
Luke 3:1-6 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. We all have lists of things that need to be done, things we have forgotten to do. It can be rather overwhelming. If you’re the person who has everything done, don’t tell me. I’m right in the thick of it, too. It’s going to be an uphill slog to get everything done before December 24th. With the long to-do list, I’m looking forward to Christmas, and especially to the reminder that the Prince of Peace is coming into the world. It’s been a long week, and really it’s been a long month. The attacks in Paris, the shooting in San Bernardino, the fear that danger could be lurking anywhere- it makes me cry out, “How long, O Lord?” How long until we see the day of your salvation, the promised day of peace? I am hardly the first to say this, nor am I the only one to say it now. Instead, I’m joining a big choir of people who have called out to God to come and save us.
Back in the days of the prophets, people wondered why God was taking so long to send the messiah. What was the hold up? Was it that God didn’t care anymore? Was it that the people were too sinful? Could they pray harder, do more, offer better sacrifices, or maybe they were offering good sacrifices but not doing it the right way? But the word of the Lord that came through Malachi was this: yes, people were sinful and needed to be cleaned and purified. But God would be the one who would scrub them clean and bring them together like fuller’s soap. God would be the refiner, taking out the dross and leaving the gold. Like the fuller’s soap, the refiner’s fire would not be exactly comfortable. It wouldn’t be easy, but the good news was that God would be the one who would be in charge.
Hundreds of years later around the time of Jesus, people were again crying out for a messiah- one to bring peace and to rule in justice. There were lots of different opinions on what needed to be done so that God would send a messiah. The Pharisees were convinced that everyone needed to follow the rules before God would send the messiah. Talk about an impossible task that would never get accomplished.
Yet the gospel of Luke tells us that the time did come, and in the story we heard today, the preparation for the messiah wasn’t getting everyone to behave. Instead, John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It was a washing away of the past and the beginning of a new direction, to let go of old mistakes.
John’s baptisms reminded Luke of one of those old prophets-Isaiah. Isaiah had proclaimed, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” and described a major public works project of making the royal highway.
Here’s the funny thing about that royal highway. Who would want every mountain to be low and every valley to be filled in? Don’t we love living where there are mountains and valleys? But think if your transportation were your own feet or a donkey or horse if you were very lucky or rich. You might want a highway that made the rougher places level.
Ancient kingdoms had royal highways that led out in spokes from the capital city so it was easy to stay in connection with the king. It would make it easier to get to the king if the highway were smooth and level. It would also be easier for the king to come to the people, to come to their side to lead them when war threatened, to mediate when there were conflicts internally, to bring aid after a disaster.
We call Jesus our prince of peace, our king of righteousness, and we are connected to Jesus through prayer, through baptism, through communion. Jesus made the royal highway of the way of the cross, smoothing out all barriers that keep us from him, so that all flesh shall see the salvation of our God. When everything seems impossible, when we cry out “How long, O Lord,” let us remember that we don’t have to wait. Jesus has already promised to be with us, “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus stands with us, bringing light and love and hope and peace. A light shines in the darkness, and however dark or long our road may be, the darkness does not overcome that beacon of hope. Thanks be to God.