Second Sunday of Advent
December 10, 2006
The Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
Sermon: "The Cry of the Prophet"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as 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. Every 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; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
The Cry of the Prophet
Second Sunday of Advent - December 10, 2006
The opening song of Michael Card's album The Word is entitled The Prophet. The words of the refrain are:
"I am the prophet and I smolder and burn
I scream and cry and wonder why you never seemed to learn
To hear with your own ears with your own eyes to see
I am the prophet, won't you listen to me.
I am the prophet, won't you listen to me."
If we look back over the history of prophets, they have not been well received. Moses was not welcomed by pharaoh. Daniel was thrown into a lion's den. Isaiah, we believe, was sent off into captivity. Others were thrown into fiery furnaces, chased out of town, lived in caves and thrown into wells. Having prophet on one's job description was not healthy. No one would claim to be a prophet unless they were in the words of the song, "smoldering and burning", with the word of God.
Can we picture someone trying desperately to tell people about God? This person has indeed received a word from God to share with the people. They will gain nothing by sharing this prophecy. They will not gain status in the community. They will not be lauded by the leaders and be raised up to some high religious position. They will not receive money or lands. In fact, they will receive the opposite in many ways.
This morning we are introduced to the prophet John, the Baptist. For many years God's word through the prophets has been silent in the land. The chosen people have not heard from God through the prophetic voice in some time. Foreign rulers have sway over many aspects of their lives. A king sits on the throne not of David's lineage, but placed there by the Romans because he knows how to play the game. The religious rulers of the day are set on keeping the Law of Moses strictly. They expect everyone to follow the Law to the letter particularly where offerings and worship are concerned. As a result, the people are oppressed from all sides, socially, politically, and religiously. Everyone has rules for them to follow. None of these rules seem to have anything to do with the love of God proclaimed and lived out in daily life.
In the land the poor are getting poorer. The sick are not healed. The blind do not see and the lame do not walk. The righteous, in order to follow the Law, are afraid to help in the wrong way because they might be defiled. Since they fear defilement they don't help much at all.
Into this situation comes John. John comes amongst the people. He does not appear to the wealthy, the social elite, the kings, the Roman rulers, or the religious leaders. He comes to the people. The people are the ones oppressed. The people are the ones starving and hurting. He comes with a message the people have been longing to hear. The one long awaited is coming. The Messiah of God is near. John speaks with the words of the prophet Isaiah. His words from long ago promised the coming of the Messiah. God's kingdom is on its way and all things will be renewed and restored.
By renewal and restoration the people believed the Messiah would renew the ancient history of Israel. The return of prosperity and glory to the land would take place. The people would be raised up as the Messiah would turn the fortunes upside down and Israel would be the greatest among the nations once more.
And yet, John does not quite come with that message. He calls for the people to "prepare the way of the Lord." In this message he does not literally mean to fill the valleys and lower the hills. He does not mean to make every road straight in the land. His call is to one of repentance. This call is both individual and corporate. Every person is called to examine their own life. In addition, the leaders are to examine the life of the people of Israel as a whole. In this context, the metaphor of valleys, hills and highways could mean something more significant. They could mean something very significant to us.
For example, filling the valleys might mean examining the sinfulness in our lives that drags us down. We get involved in things that tear us apart physically, mentally, and spiritually. We abuse our bodies through personal addictions. We keep ourselves away from God by idolatry. Perhaps we worship money or material possessions. Perhaps we worship someone and put them on a pedestal. Maybe we desire power and authority. We have to work with God, not alone, on identifying the valleys in our lives. Asking God for help, we fill them up being lifted out and preparing ourselves to be with God.
Lowering the mountains might mean removing prideful tendencies from our lives. We all have times when we think we are just a little better than the next person. We work hard so we deserve the necessities we have. They don't work as hard so they don't. We see ourselves better for all sorts of reasons from illness to economy to politics. By lifting ourselves up on the mountain we make it hard for us to reach out to those in the most need. After all, there is still that feeling that we just might be defiled in some way. Preparing our hearts to receive the King of kings, born of a poor family, with no lineage might help us tear down the mountains we have placed in our lives towards others.
Making our paths straight could easily imply spending some time being with God. If we look for God constantly we might see glimpses of God around us more frequently. Making our path straight allows us to keep focused on God. We are so easily distracted by the things around us. Look at Christmas as it is celebrated now. I know it gets easy for us to spend a great deal more time looking for the right present for someone, rather than being a presence with that someone. The same is true of our relationship with God. We can prepare ourselves for Jesus' coming by looking for him more intentionally.
Furthermore, as the Body of Christ we have to look at these valleys, hills and pathways in what we are doing collectively. Are we being a light to the people of Reidsville of the love of God? In what ways are we causing sinfulness amongst ourselves? In what ways do we tend to look down on those who are not as fortunate or who don't believe the same way we do? If we keep our eyes on Jesus can we begin to effect a change in our presence in this community?
So, John's prophetic word really isn't so much about the geography of Israel, as it is the structure of our own lives. Advent reminds us of the call of the prophet to examine ourselves and see where we are in our walk with Christ. If Jesus came today would we be ready? The cry of the prophet calls to us: I scream and cry and wonder why you never seemed to learn. To hear with your own ears with your own eyes to see, I am the prophet, won't you listen to me?