Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
December 5, 2021
At the beginning of worship
Christ has come, and Christ will come again. This truth of the Christian faith is why on our Advent journey. As we recall what happened and will happen again, (Christ’s coming), we find we must deal with a crazy man out in the wilderness.
We’re going to spend two weeks with John the Baptist, today and next Sunday. John kind of reminds me John Brown, the fiery abolitionist, for neither of the two minced words. John called it as they saw it, yet people were drawn to him. It’s an interesting phenomenon that we still see—one who makes outrageous demands yet is still able to draw a crowd. What’s that all about?
Perhaps the appeal of John the Baptist has to do with us knowing that, deep down, that is something rotten in us and we need to change. John tells us to be ready, for one is coming who can help us make such changes. Today, our topic is preparation. How are we preparing to meet Jesus?
Before the reading of scripture:
Our reading today begins, not in the land by the Jordan in which John ministered, but in the halls of power as Luke tells us who was in charge in Rome and the various providences around Palestine and at the temple. The halls of power stand in contrast to the voice crying in the wilderness, far from where people live and work.
After the reading of scripture
Las Vegas as a metaphor
Some of you, I’m sure have been to Las Vegas. It’s a city that never sleeps. If you are up at 2 AM, which you might be if you have just arrived due to the 3-hour time change, you find the casinos still bright with the bells of slot machines ringing. Deserts are usually dry, dark, and sparsely populated places. But Las Vegas defies the desert. You’ll find magnificent fountains splashing water.
When I lived in Southern Utah, a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive to Vegas, I often made the drive at night. Or, sometimes, I drove in the predawn early morning hours to catch a flight. I travelled down Interstate 15, through the darkness with bright stars overhead. Then, when I crested a ridge about twenty miles outside of Vegas, the entire valley before me lighted up. It appeared like Christmas, regardless of the season.
And the crowds. Even in the darkness of early in the morning, Interstate 15 would be crowded.
In contrast to Vegas, deserts are quiet places, with the only sound being the wind blowing through a barren canyon or rattling dry yucca pods. In Vegas the sound of a carnival fills the air, especially downtown and along the strip. If you get out of Vegas, just twenty or so miles, you’re in a different world.
The wilderness around Vegas
One of my favorite places to hike, on the times I was there in the winter, were the canyons that dissect the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. This area lies south of Hoover Dam. You never wanted to hike such canyons in the summer as the temperature will rise over 120 degrees.
These dry waterways are dotted with an occasional hot sulfur spring. Because of danger of flash floods, you’d best stay out of the canyon when rain is forecasted. Deep inside one, you’d be more likely to come upon a desert bighorn sheep or a rattlesnake than another person. For those like me, who sometimes need a break for the commotion of a place like Vegas, these canyons provide opportunities for solitude. It’s hard to believe, when you are in such an isolated place that hundreds of thousands of folks are rushing around life just a dozen miles or so away, by the way the crow flies.
From the busy world to the wilderness
Luke, in our reading today, provides us with a similar contrast, as he shifts our focus from the busy places of politics to the wilderness. This gospel writer is a stickler the details. We’re provided a historical setting, a who’s who of both the political and religious world.
If I was to write the history of my ministry, using Luke’s model, I might tell the story of my ordination in Ellicottville New York in this manner: George H. W. Bush was in the White House, Mario Cuomo was the governor of New York, Price H. Gwynn III was the moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, and the Reverend Eunice Poethig was executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Western New York.
By beginning with all the bigwigs of Rome and Jerusalem, which Luke inserts here as he also does in chapter two with the birth of Jesus,we’re surprised to learn that God’s word doesn’t come to the city or to those in power. Instead, it comes through a strange fire-breathing prophet living out in the Jordan River wilderness. Those in power have no idea of John, but the changes he forecasts will change the world in which they live.
Ancient ties to John’s message
John’s message is one of expectation, as he draws upon the ancient prophet Isaiah, emphasizing God’s on-going work of salvation. I like how Eugene Peterson translates John’s preaching in The Message:
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
Every ditch will be filled in,
every bump smoothed out
the detours straightened out
all the ruts paved over.
Everyone will be there to see
The parade of God’s salvation
There are some that think this passage draws from an ancient practice of clearing a path for a royal procession. If a king traveled through his territories, there would be those who went ahead to smooth out the road so that the king could travel comfortably and speedily.
Admitting our needs
It’s interesting to contemplate this passage considering the never-ending political season in which we now live. A friend, commenting on how Luke throws in the politics of the era into our text, wrote: “In the rarified circles of society where the Caesars dwell, folks don’t like to admit they have problems. Politics is about solving other people’s problems, not about admitting to your own.” To such people, who “live on the mountaintop, such a call to repent is frightening,” for they are to be made low. But to those “living in the low-lying margins of life, this great equalization, the mountains lowered as the valleys rise, is good news.”
In a way, this appears to be just another example of that hard-to-comprehend truth found throughout Jesus’ teachings that the last will be first.
We must always remember that God’s ways are not our ways! God loves the world and is looking out for everyone, especially those often overlooked.
God is coming
John’s message is that God, through Jesus Christ, is coming. People better get ready! To the Jewish listener of John in the first century, the thought of encountering God face-to-face was terrifying. They knew their own sinfulness, and that when compared to God’s holiness, it would lead to their demise. So, it’s imperative that people prepare themselves by confessing their sins, just as we do early in nearly every worship service.
Confession and repentance are necessary if we want to stand before God without fear.
Preparing for the holidays
We all get that Advent is a season of preparation. Many of us have begun decorating our homes with trees and lights. The Garrisons may get around to it this afternoon. The smells of sweets baking, and cider mulling fill our homes. Donna made gingerbread cookies this week. Our homes seem warmer and brighter this season even as the weather can be cooler (although, that hasn’t been the case this year). At least the nights longer.
Getting ready for Christmas, in this way, runs counter to the season. We prepare with optimism, reminding ourselves of a change that’s coming, as the days will be getting longer after Christmas. But our preparations, the ones that are really needed, have nothing to do with us creating a home that could be featured in Southern Living. We need to prepare our souls…
Preparation by self-examination
The preparation for Christ’s coming, whether it was his first coming, his second coming at the end of history, or just preparing to celebrate Christmas, must involve self-examinations. Are our paths straight? Are their bumps on the roads of our lives? Are their mountains that we face or valleys we must cross?
John wants us to do is to examine ourselves so that we might see what keeps us from being in full communion with God. John’s role, by being out in the wilderness, draws our attention away from the busyness of life and refocuses us on what’s important. What crooked ways do we need to straighten, what obstacles do we need to remove?
Now obviously, by ourselves, we can’t move mountains. But God can. If there’s something like a metaphorical mountain blocking us from God, we need to confess and call out for help. We do this trusting God will hear our cries and respond with compassion.
We need to enter the wilderness
This Advent season, take some time to go into the wilderness, at least metaphorically. Explore the rough places in your lives and see what might need to be done to make room for the coming of God, the coming of a Savior. Are there dark places in your heart which needs to be brought to light and confessed to God in repentance? Are their obstacles that keep you from accepting the gentle loving ways of Christ that need to be removed so that you can be filled with joy?
Baptism is the symbol of our sins being washed away in Christ. Do you need to be baptized? Or maybe, we all need to rededicate ourselves to the baptism we experienced years ago.
An evening ritual
You know, before falling asleep at night, I try to think of the things for which I’m thankful and include them in my prayers. But there is another side to prayer. Before falling asleep at night, take time to examine your life using Jesus as an example and confess those sins that you realize you’ve committed. And, in in the spirit of the season, if you find you have wronged someone, make a point the next day to apologize. And finally, repent too of those sins you may not uncover and need God’s help in weeding out from your heart. If we truly open ourselves up to Christ, there will be things we may be surprised of our need for repentance.
Prepare, for not only has Christ come, but he is also coming again. Are we ready to meet him? Amen.
 Luke 2:1-2.
 Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: JKP, 1990), 47.
 “To You Is the Song: The 2015 Advent Devotional” published by The Fellowship Community (Louisville, KY), 12.
 Scott Hoezee, “Remembering the Future,” Reformed Worship Vo. 57 (September 2000), 7.
 See Matthew 19:30, 20:8, 20:16; Mark 9:35, 10:31; Luke 13:30.
 Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 137.