Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Let’s take a look at John the Baptist.

Now when the Gospel of Luke begins, John is not yet born, not yet a fetus in his mother’s womb. Yet the shape of the narrative indicates that this child to be born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, in their old, will be someone special. They had waited a long time for a child. Just as Israel was waiting long and hard for the Messiah. 

There is plenty of waiting to go around in this story. And I’m 100% certain that it was all intentional and purposeful. Hindsight almost always carries such certainty. But I resonate deeply with Elizabeth and Zechariah’s long experience of expectation. As I write these words and read their story, I sit in a long season of wondering, is my waiting intentional and purposeful?

I think the next chunk of John's story might shed some light:

John’s first interaction with Jesus is when a pregnant Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, whom the Angel Gabriel says is carrying a child herself:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:41-45)

After his birth, we don’t see John again for 33 years. That’s a long time to wait for one’s job to begin. But I don’t think his waiting was passive. John would have grown up seeing little Jesus on occasion. His parents would have constantly kept him mindful of his miraculous beginning. John’s waiting was all about preparation. So that at the right time, he could come out of the wilderness and proclaim the words of the prophets:

Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
  Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
    and the rough places shall become level ways,
  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:4b-6)

The remaining three Gospels show John the Baptist’s second recorded interaction with Jesus. In John 1:29-31, he says,
 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Why do I bring this all up? As Advent comes to a close, and Christmas quickly approaches, I always experience a pang of sadness. I’ve loved celebrating this season so much, and then it all comes to an abrupt end. Sure, we see the secular vestiges of the season around for a few more weeks, but what of this holy expectation for Jesus’ birth?

Can you see the paralleled joy John the Baptist demonstrated, both as an fetus and a grown man? He knows something big is happening. And through all of this, John shows us that Christmas is just the beginning. Jesus didn’t come just for Christmas Day. He came for the day after, and all the days to come. But most specifically, He came for that fateful Good Friday on the cross.

So what would it look like to keep Advent in our hearts all year long? Living in holy expectation of God’s power to be made known each new day, just like that glorious first Christmas morn? It might make the waiting a little easier.

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