LUKE 3:1-6 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. 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. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Woe to you who are readers this Sunday. “Prepare ye!” This passage is a minefield of tricky names. Interestingly, God skipped over all those tricky names of earthly greatness to settle on a peculiar plebeian crying out in the wilderness. John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin and the church’s last great prophet.
S.O.A.P. Method (Scripture, Observe, Apply, Pray)
S: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”
O: John is quoting from another great prophet, Isaiah. But the words now seem destructive as report after report warn of the devastating environmental consequences of persistently mowing down fields and forests. Of course the metaphor wasn’t meant to speak to our treatment of the earth but to the landscape of our souls. Ironically, how we treat the earth is likely one of the most significant “mountains” of sin needing repentance.
A: What is the typology of my soul? How easy is it for God to get to me? Better yet, how easy is it for me to become aware that God has already got me?
- Mountains: where I make thing unnecessarily difficult.
- Valleys: when sadness and despair sets me up for ambush.
- Crooked paths: distractions and shiny objects of ambition, security and sense-numbing pleasure.
- Rough ways: random and irregular circumstances of life.
P: My prayer to God: “Help me level. The drama of mountains and valleys is exhausting.”
God’s prayer for me: “My way is easy and my baggage is light.”
MALACHI 3:1-4 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Malachi is the last book of the Christian Bible and is from a prophet living around 420 BCE. Israel had returned from exile to the Promised Land and was anxious to restore a right relationship with God. Malachi suggests that the people should stop their efforts and instead let God do the work of making them ready. “For God is like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap.”
In the quiet of prayer when I place myself into a greater awareness of God’s presence I sense my limitations and my imperfections. They are my strengths. They are my weaknesses. They are my beauty. They are my ugliness.
My prayer: Help me God, be what you see.
CANTICLE 19, BAS (LUKE 1:68-79) Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour, born of the house of his servant David. Through his holy prophets he promised of old, that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us. He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant. This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life. You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The Nunc Dimitis. It so easily trips off the tongue from those countless services of evensong. The first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke are filled with singing. This song, sung by John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, serves as this week’s psalm. Zechariah was silenced because of his scepticism. His first words after he regains his speech are a in a song of celebration at the birth of his son.
“Guide our feet into the way of peace.” As I sit with this passage I realize how important it is to know when to speak and when to be silent. For now, a moment of silence before God. Amen.
PHILIPPIANS 1:3-11 I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Paul wrote this letter while in prison to the first church in Europe. It is hard to imagine anyone writing such a joy-filled, generous and thoughtful letter in such conditions.
How do we know we are making good choices, individually and as a society? Make sure our hearts are overflowing with love. Where does this challenge me?