Every Advent Season, we hear from the voice of John the Baptist. He is a voice crying out in the darkness of a divided world. His voice directed people to the everlasting God. Isaiah – and like so many prophets before him, they were voices crying out in the dark. They pointed to the life and hope that is found in this One called God - God as deliverer - God as redeemer - God as the new day that will dawn for all humankind.
We desperately need the prophetic voices of God with and for us - and God needs our voices to be prophetic today. We the church are called to be those voices in the darkness!
Isaiah 40:1-11 is very important in understanding John the Baptist. This passage announces God's intention to dwell among God's people. God gives directions for the way to be prepared. By who? By the people God wants to visit? No! By God's own servants. God does not say, "Tell the people to get ready and when they have done so, I will come to them.” God says, "Prepare the way! I am coming to my people (whether they are ready or not)." You see there is nothing from John the Baptist or Isaiah in the scripture accounts that say, “Prepare our way…make our roads for life.” They both say, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Because God is coming!
The voice of God in the Isaiah text has the character of a wounded lover. God is desperate: "I will come to my people, and nothing will keep me from them. Mountains will be torn down, valleys will be filled in, rough places made smooth - whatever it takes!" It is hard not to think of the old Diana Ross song, "Ain't no mountain high enough,” when we hear these words.
The announcement is gracious, with only the dimmest echo of warning. Neither Isaiah, nor John, nor Mark intended to say, "God will come to those who are ready; those who are not, will be left out." The accent is simply on God's imminent and certain advent, though such an announcement obviously calls for response. God is coming to us! This is fantastic news! So, what can we do to get ready? Confess your sins, John suggests. Get baptized. Repent. Later, Jesus will add, "believe in the good news!" (Mark 1:15).
God will come and fulfill all of God's promises whether or not we do any of these things. But knowing God is on the way, why wouldn't we want to do them? To take a somewhat silly analogy, children play a game called "Hide-and-Seek" in which everyone hides and tries not to get caught, but eventually, when the game goes as it should, everyone gets found. The game is interesting from a psychological point of view because "hiding" is not really very much fun. If you ask most children, "Do you want to sit somewhere all by yourself and keep very quiet for a long time?" you will not get many takers. What's fun about "Hide-and-Seek” is not hiding, but getting found! Everybody likes to be found.
So, when Advent comes around every year, we are reminded that God is coming to find us. We have our ways of hiding. But today when John the Baptist shouts, "Prepare the way of the Lord!" it is as though God has just called, "Ready or not, here I come!" And we remember: this is the God who always finds us. That is the voice the world needs. That is the prophetic voice that we all need. God will always find us!
Which means we are free to live, free to love, and free to serve with reckless abandon. There is urgency in this life to prepare the way for God. How do we do that?
A story…Sir Nicholas Winton…..saved 669 children from Nazis death camps. When he was 105 over 100 folks gathered for his birthday party. Most who were there were the actual people, or children of those, whom he had saved in 1939. He had never met them face to face. He did not know they would be at this party. To see the short inspirational clip of that moment go to this link….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_nFuJAF5F0. There are over 6000 living today who owe their life to this man. Were it not for his passionate voice in the midst of darkness none of them would be here.
It was late in December 1938 when the stockbroker from Hampstead cancelled a holiday to go to Prague to see what was happening to refugees there. Winton spent only three weeks in the city - the most leave he could get from his job at home - but it was enough time for him to recognise the impending threat facing the refugees in October 1938. He immediately set about organising eight evacuations of the children on the Czech Kindertransport train. He advertised in newspapers for foster homes, got the necessary permits from the immigration office in the UK, and persuaded the Germans to let the children leave the country. When Winton returned to his job in London on 21 January 1939 he continued the rescue mission, working in the evenings until the last train was cancelled when war broke out in September 1939. He told very few about this work. It was only uncovered when his scrapbook was discovered by his daughter who shared it with others. One of Sir Nicholas Winton’s core values was this: "If it's not impossible, then it can be done."
Our Savior’s….we proclaim….”With God all things are possible!” We don’t say that as some nicety or even false hope. We say that with a bold passion because we know it to be true. We know it because of the voices surrounding us that cry out in the darkness and for the voices that answer back in that same darkness.
We are not alone…God is with us. God comes to us…where we are….as we are…whether we are ready or not! The gift we can give to our God is to prepare the way. Where there ain’t no mountain to high, no valley to low, no river to wide! The church on earth…..saving lives…just like Sir Winton.
Just imagine with me for a moment….a few John the Baptists types shouting out in the crowd today reminding us of who we are and whose we are. And then imagine you sitting in a chair in the midst of that gathered crowd at 105 years old. People have come to celebrate your life. And at some point…the person sitting next to you leans over to give a hug. Saying… “You Our Savior’s…you a disciple of Jesus….saved my life…I am here because of you!” Imagine standing up and turning around to see hundreds if not thousands standing up when a person says…stand up if Elizabeth, Mark, Sarah, Jack…saved your life. Oh the stories that could be told. Oh the faces that would be smiling and staring back at you.
You see….we the church are in the saving business….saving our very own lives….saving all those we come into contact…..saving our brothers and sisters the world over….that’s the voice of the church….that’s the heart, hands, and feet movement of the church….that is why we exist!
Our Savior’s….Prepare The Way Of Our Lord! Ready or Not, Here He Comes!
Peace and Hope,