Make Straight Your Paths
Make Straight Your Paths
During the Second Sunday of Advent the candle of Peace is lit. A time when we reflect on the coming Prince of Peace. However, our reading from Luke’s gospel which feature the introduction of John the Baptist and his call to repentance feels a long way away from peace. The question we might better ask is what is in a name?
Scripture: Luke 3: 1-6
Make Straight Your Paths
I would like you to take a moment and think back to how Luke’s gospel starts. A story about a barren woman, Elizabeth, and her husband, Zechariah, who miraculously have a child, named John. These are common people. Then we have a young girl named Mary and her betrothed, Joseph. Sprinkle in some shepherds and Luke’s gospel account deals with some very common people who do not have very much pedigree.
In our reading today, Luke gives us a list of the whose who of the ruling elite. Not only does this help establish when the events happen historically, they provide an interesting counterpoint between the character of John the Baptist and all the ruling elites mentioned. Who is it that Luke spends time and focuses on? Not the rulers.
However, it is interesting to note that John the Baptist is spelled out by his lineage. Then John proclaims that one is coming and that we must, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
What does the name of Jesus require of us? When we hear the name of Jesus where do our minds go? Are we reminded of how Jesus came to us as a child? Do we think of him as Emmanuel, God with us, the Prince of Peace? Or do we think of Jesus as one who fed 5000 thousand on the side of a mountain with only a few loaves and fishes. Perhaps our minds wander to the events of Good Friday, where we find Jesus hanging on a cross like a common criminal? Or do you go one step further and think of the risen Christ and the empty tomb? Do you wonder what it would have been like to be one of those two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, when he opened all of scripture to them. What do you think about when you hear the name Jesus?
Advent is a time for preparation, a time for questions. Today as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we might ask, what is in a name?
I want you to do an exercise with me. I will ask a question and you will shout out an answer.
- Name the greatest hockey player?
- Name the greatest golfer?
- Name the greatest actress of all time?
- Name the most influential politician of the 20th century?
- Name the most inspiring person of the 21st century?
- Name your Lord and Saviour?
Why do we hesitate?
I think we hesitate because we are afraid the world will judge us, and that judgement will be harsh.
Why does Luke bother mentioning all these names in his gospel? It might be because he is trying to situate the birth, baptism and ministry of Jesus in a particular time and place. Luke has been commissioned by Theophilus to write this account of Jesus and his life. Naming the people who held political power helps to do that and they are names that Theophilus, most likely being a gentile, would recognize and he would know their importance.
But there is another reason. After naming all these people who hold political power, Luke names John the Baptist in very much the same way. Luke writes, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Do you see the contrast Luke is trying to frame? Here are all these powerful people, living in their palaces exercising power. And then there is John son of Zechariah who lives in the wilderness and the word of God came to him, just like the prophets of old!
John is running around the wilderness preaching a message of repentance and preparation, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.”
Luke is reminding his reader about where God does God’s work and of what is required. Prepare, make straight your paths. The powerful people residing in their palaces don’t hear this word, refuse to hear this word. Are unwilling to allow God to work in their hearts, are unwilling to go into the wilderness where things are wild!
And I think we are the same sometimes. We are getting ready for Christmas, but are we getting ready for Christ? Are we willing to hear the message the John the Baptist has for us?
We like the routine of our lives, the predictability of it. But the wilderness doesn’t offer predictability and the result is that we aren’t always comfortable with John the Baptist or his message. We want to skip to the parts about Jesus. But we can’t just skip ahead, we need to spend some time in the wilderness with John.
The wilderness is not a surprising place for John the Baptist to be. It fits in with the Old Testament prophetic tradition. Tying John to the prophets of old and it sets up the forty days that Jesus will subsequently face in the desert. We should note that unlike Jesus who is whisked away into the desert by the Holy Spirit, John has been there all along. It is a conscious choice he made, reflective of his ministry of repentance and baptism.
We are socialized to listen to the voices of people in power and who exercise authority. We listen to politicians, we respect police officers, we trust the advice of professionals. Often, dare I say most of the time, it is to these voices that we look to during times of crises. When things become challenging we want a voice of authority to reassure us that things will be alright. Voices which will provide guidance on how we can solve the problem. As I said we are socialized this way.
We don’t often listen to the voices like John that we find in our society. We either don’t trust them or we discredit them as not having enough experience. But I often think we should listen to those voice a little more, because I believe there is a great deal of wisdom in those voices.
In Sweden Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old girl, is on strike. She isn’t attending school. Instead she is protesting outside of the Swedish parliament demanding action on the issue of climate change (reference).
We’ve been collecting socks here at St. Andrew’s at the request of Jordan Randall, David and Marlene’s grand-daughter, so that they can be donated to the homeless and those living in shelters. Socks are the most needed item that people living on the street need. Jordan is nine. We will be dedicating those socks next Sunday during worship.
Speaking of socks a radio station I listen to, based in Toronto, is also collecting socks. As part of their campaign they have interviewed people who are living on the street. So it isn’t the voice of a well paid radio DJ telling you whey they are important, instead it’s the voice of someone who is living on the street. Voices we don’t often listen too.
What’s in a name? Unless it’s the name of Jesus, nothing. It’s time we started listen to the still small voices, they have important things to say to us.
Make straight your hearts;
Prepare the way of the Lord. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.