Prepare the Way
“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.”
December 3, 2021, Words By: Rev. Sarah Wiles, Image By: Unknown
Anytime we read something like, the word of the God came to so-and-so, I’m tempted to imagine this happened in some alternate spiritual universe—one where there are prophets and visions and miracles—not my ordinary everyday world. But the author of Luke is at pains to tell us that this happened here, in the real world, at a specific time in a specific place.
That’s why we have this list of rulers and governors at the beginning of our passage. The story we are about to hear didn’t happen once upon a time. It happened when Tiberius was emperor, and Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod the governor of Galilee.
So, we ought to be on guard. If news of God arriving could come to a man wandering in the desert in the time of Tiberius, Pilate, and Herod, then who’s to say, maybe right now, in the days of President Biden, President Duterte, and President Giammattei, Christ isn’t coming again? To us. Here. Now. Stranger things have happened.
“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.”
John’s message is two-fold: repent and prepare.
But John doesn’t tell us what to repent of. Which might be good. For me it seems to vary day by day. There might be some clues, though, in the second half of John’s word: prepare the way, smooth out the rough patches, lift up the low spots, bring down the high parts, straighten out the curves, make a broad, smooth road.
It is as if John is saying, put out the welcome mat, sweep off the sidewalk, get ready—company’s coming; God is on the way.
What might this mean in our real lives, though? If the author of Luke was so insistent about starting on a real-world note, this has gotten awfully abstract in a hurry.
Perhaps the best way to start is by stopping, taking a breath, and looking around—at ourselves, our lives. If God is to arrive this afternoon, what needs tidying? Which corners need to be scrubbed?
Where are there low spots that need to be filled in? Perhaps our reserves of kindness or patience have gotten low. And so, repentance might take the form of deep breaths, and counting to ten, and a step back to gain perspective.
Or maybe there are mountains in our lives that need to be brought low. Mountains of busyness, of consumption, of pride or self-centeredness, mountainous grudges, or mountainous to do lists that make us feel indispensable. Might repentance mean letting some of that busyness, some of those grudges, some of that pride wash out to sea?
And what about the crooked places? The places where our world has become a tangled mess—unsolvable problems, and irreconcilable differences. Maybe we can’t sort all of it out. Maybe we can only work around the edges. But perhaps in this season we let go of our white-knuckle grip on our problems, hold them more loosely, offer them to God.
Then there are the rough places, the scars that will not heal, the pain that does not ease, the grief that is still raw. What do we do with all that when we hear God is coming? We can’t smooth it all out. We can’t heal ourselves. But maybe we can find a seat by the side of the road and wait, trusting that God is coming, that Jesus will draw near, and trail wide the hem of his garment, and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Dwelling Among Us
The word “repent” often invokes images of moral cleansing, but the word actually means to change our mind or to change the way we see. How must we adjust our sight in order to bear witness to the miracle of Christmas unfolding before us?