“O God our Father, who didst send forth thy Son to be King of kings and Prince of Peace: Grant that all the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdom of Christ, and learn of him the way of peace. Send forth among all people the spirit of good will and reconciliation. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” (United Methodist Book of Worship)
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.’ ”
The Great Tradition
The precursor of Christ—the voice of one crying in the wilderness—preaches in the desert of the soul that has known no peace. Not only then, but even now, a bright and burning lamp first comes and preaches the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Then the true Light follows, as John himself said: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The word came in the desert and spread in all the countryside around the Jordan. (Origen)
John, being chosen for the apostleship, was also the last of the holy prophets. For this reason, as the Lord has not come yet, he says, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” What is the meaning of “Prepare the way of the Lord”? It means, Make ready for the reception of whatever Christ may wish to do. Withdraw your hearts from the shadow of the law, discard vague figures and no longer think perversely. Make the paths of our God straight. For every path that leads to good is straight and smooth and easy, but the one that is crooked leads down to wickedness those that walk in it. (Cyril of Alexandria)
Prayer of Confession
“Lord, hear our prayers. Hear what we say, and what we do not say as well. Allow us to mirror, if only imperfectly, your perfect compassion in all we say and do. Allow us to extend the grace to others that you have extended to us. Bless us and make clear for us the opportunities for ministry to each other that have been revealed in our worship together. These things we pray in the name of the infant Jesus, who is revealed to us in this season. Amen.” (Frank Ramirez)
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him” (v. 4). This was the reason John was born. He was the one who would declare the news that God’s promised Messiah was on the way. He was the one who prepared people with a baptism of repentance, revealing their need to be cleansed, even if his baptism could not do what being baptized in Christ’s would do.
The early church Fathers often spiritualized the meanings of biblical texts that focused on historical events. They did not always get it right. On the other hand, they often saw things and made connections that our “sophisticated” way of reading Scripture prevents us from seeing. They saw spiritual truths that are clearly present once you have eyes to see. Origen said that John the baptizer, the precursor of Christ, “preaches in the desert of the soul that has known no peace.” His advance-work prepares those who are restless, sinful, broken, and hurting and who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and the salvation he brings. He prepares those in need to recognize and receive the true Light of the world.
In whose life are you a “John the baptizer?” For the sake of Christ, who are you preparing to receive the good news of the Gospel? Cyril of Alexandria asks a good question: “What does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord?” His answer is also a good one, though it is hard to swallow. His answer is, “Make ready for the reception of whatever Christ may wish to do. Withdraw your hearts from the shadow of the law, discard vague figures and no longer think perversely. Make the paths of our God straight. For every path that leads to good is straight and smooth and easy, but the one that is crooked leads down to wickedness those that walk in it.”
What is the “whatever Christ may wish to do” in your life? That’s sort of a terrifying question, isn’t it? But why? Is not Christ the loving Savior and Lord of life? Do we trust him so little? Do we believe he will call us to the hard path and narrow road without also equipping us for it and walking along with us? O we of little faith! When Jesus walks with us and lives through us, his yoke is easy and burden light.
Therefore, let’s live in such a way that crooked ways become straight, that rough ways become smooth. And as we talk the talk and walk the walk, Isaiah prophecies that “people will see God’s salvation.” From our vantage point, we know that response will be due to the gracious and sovereign work of the Holy Spirit moving in a person’s life. However, we also know God uses means to his ends. And disciples of Jesus Christ are commanded to serve as precursors – heralds, ambassadors, and examples – for the entrance of Christ into people’s lives. May we be found faithful.
- What is the, “whatever Christ may wish to do in your life,” that you are holding back from him? Why are you not giving it to Jesus?
- In what ways does living a godly life before an unbelieving world help prepare them for hearing the Gospel and trusting in Christ?
- Who can you pray for today to receive the salvation God offers them in Jesus Christ? Start praying for them today and ask God to enable you to prepare the way for that person to hear the Gospel and trust in Christ.