Advent is a season of preparing, of getting ready for the coming of our God. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin was a bit older than Jesus and John had been given a mission by God. John’s work was to tell the people of Messiah’s coming and encourage them to get ready for His appearing.
Jesus refers to John as Elijah, the prophet who was to come before the coming of God. John in turn, always pointed to Jesus and referred to Him as someone whose sandals John was unworthy to untie. John knew he was a forerunner, going so far as to say that “I must decrease so that He might increase.”
John spent his time preaching repentance and baptizing people in preparation of receiving and greeting the Lord when He arrived. He and his disciples were baptizing a number of Jews who would come and be baptized as evidence of their repentance and desire to be set right with God. Most of the time this would go without a hitch, but one day a bunch of Jewish leaders came out to be baptized in the Jordan. You would think this would have been a cause for rejoicing for John and his disciples—the leaders of his people were coming to him.
John though, accosts them and tells them go do “works worthy of repentance,” and then presumably he would baptize them. On this day though, he wouldn’t. The coming of God was too important a matter for mere form or appearance’s sake. Preparing for God to come was serious business.
Our text for this Sunday includes a quotation from Isaiah referring to preparing the way of the Lord. The snippet we have in Matthew would have called to mind the larger passage in Isaiah which goes on to speak about valleys being filled in and mountains leveled to make the coming of God an easy enough affair.
This leveling of a path has of course military or royal implications—to make the arrival of an important person easy and direct. But for John, the one crying in the wilderness, this is not about valleys and mountains. This is about hearts. About the hearts of those Jewish leaders who wanted to be baptized because of their repentance but hadn’t actually changed anything. And it is about our hearts—mine and yours. Have we made preparation to receive the coming of God into our lives, or are their still obstacles and stumbling blocks between God and my most inner being? Between God and your most inner being?
If so, the text today calls us to reduce those obstacles and remove the stumbling blocks so that our God can come to us without hindrance. It is a call to open our hearts, our souls, our spirits, our minds wide to receive the God of the universe into the very fiber of our beings and lives.
With all this talk about repentance we might get the idea that Advent is morose; that it is another excuse to beat ourselves up for not being “perfect.” Nothing could be further from the truth because it reminds us that The King Is Coming! Advent calls us to sweep the floor, remove the cobwebs, paint the door because we are getting ready to celebrate!
Read Isaiah 40.3-4 slowly. Can you hear John’s voice or even Isaiah’s perhaps, calling out to you? What is it saying?
John told the Jewish leaders to do works worthy of repentance before he baptized them. How has repentance been evidenced in your life? Perhaps there are things you need to remove or add to your life to make the way straight for God. What are they?