Who Do You Hear Calling?

Who Do You Hear Calling?
Second Sunday in Advent
December 6, 2015
Luke 3:1–6
Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers

Luke 3:1–6 New International Version (NIV)
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[a]

 As we approach this Second Sunday of Advent we are met with a favorite text in the Advent season. Favorite because we, who have been in the faith for an essential amount of time, know the impact of this text. We know the impact of this text because it is a text that has found itself being propelled through the world in a number of avenues. 

We are introduced this morning to John the Baptist. The one who had been preaching “good news” to the poor and to the people who were on a journey searching for the Messiah. We are introduced to—or, rather, thrusted upon—this individual who just seems to appear in our midst out of nowhere. Yet we hear this prophetic introduction as first heard from the prophet Isaiah reminding us, no, telling us, that we need to get our act together! We need to be ready for the coming of this baby Jesus that we so desperately are in search of and in need. We hear this proclamation in the midst of the wilderness. Here my friends lies the key to our understanding and placement of this text in our Advent journey. 

It is out of the wilderness that we hear the plea, the call, to get our lives ready for the birth of the Christ child. It is out of the wilderness that we hear the contact from the prophetic utterance to again get our lives “straight.” It is from the wilderness that we seek the new advent of the birth of the Savior. So we must ask ourselves: What is our wilderness? If we take the serious look at our wilderness, we move closer to the meaning of our advent story. We all have our own definition of what the wilderness might be, but we have to “come to grips” with that definition and learn to set it straight in our search for the advent Jesus. 

John comes out of “nowhere”—or, technically, the wilderness—to proclaim the coming of the Christ child. Here again, we have set forth in a fashion that is not “cozy and cuddly.” It is not our baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, it is rather the advent Jesus that sets us ready for our life preparation to live as Christ will teach us to live. One commentator puts it this way:

Before we can bask in Christmas joy and the birth of a special baby, John forces us to examine ourselves and our world. In the style of the Old Testament prophets before him, John challenges Advent people with a message of personal and corporate self-examination. Advent, John reminds us, is a time to prepare to welcome Jesus and not simply our invited Christmas houseguests.” (Kathey Beach-Verhey, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1-Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary)

 As we move through our Advent journey we are challenged to receive and approach the birth of the Christ child with a renewed understanding that the only way in which we can truly approach the manger is through serious self- and corporate-examination in order to be the best prepared we can be for the reception and advent of the Jesus Christ. 

 Can you imagine what the people thought when John the Baptist starting spouting out this great prophetic voice and words from Isaiah? I can only imagine what John the Baptist felt when the word and commandment came to him, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” It didn’t come to him in an email, on a piece of papyrus hand-delivered from a scribe, it came to him from God! It came to him in such a manner that his proclamation was probably as startling to him as it was to the people who heard it in their daily life. Yet again, we have to hear that the Word of God came to John while he was in the wilderness! A place that we claim as a metaphor for our existence, a place where we are “trackless, wasted, alone or bereft.” This must be an important theme as it occurs several times in scripture. It is here in Luke that we hear John making this proclamation in a prophetic yet poetic way to call “all of God’s flesh” (Isaiah 40:5: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”) to the attention of the advent of the birth of Jesus Christ the newborn King. John is thus identified as one with the prophetic voice and aligned with the prophets of Israel; at the same time, he is moved passionately into God’s unfolding future in which the purposes of God shall come to fulfillment. 

We began our Advent journey hearing the warning of the unexpected advent of God into our world. Today, in this text, the announcement is fulfilled in the words of John, a prophetic voice crying in the wilderness, calling us to be washed and made ready for the advent of our God. 

Once again we are called into an incredible encounter with our God. We are not just “invited;” we are called by a loud prophetic voice that demands we get our paths straight prior to the advent of the coming of the King! It is not a subtle reminder, it is a reminder straight out of the Old Testament prophetic utterance reminding us through the centuries that we are a people called by God to be ready for the advent of our God in our lives. I am fairly certain that this message, this Second Sunday Advent message is best heard when we place ourselves or are honest with ourselves about the wilderness in which we live. It is both a prophetic and a salvation based proclamation. Meaning simply, we hear it best when we are in the wilderness!

It is simply put, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Why? because we can’t find our way out to him, God finds His way in to us! See, we so often think that Advent is about coming to the manger and swaddled baby Jesus. When in fact, it is about a God who loves us that demands that we prepare a way for Him to come to us! Preparing a way for God to be made present in our lives! What an Advent concept: Allowing God to be revealed unto us!

My friends, one of the ways in which God reveals God-self to us is through the sacrament of Holy Communion. Come, let us gather and receive the gift of God at His Holy Table.