Luke 3:2b-6, 15-16
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.”’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Today we are thinking about John the Baptist and his call to God’s people to ‘prepare the way’.
I don’t know if you’re a walker or a cyclist or like to wander but here in our local area there are many ancient pathways, often trodden in and carved into the countryside over many hundreds of years ago, and it’s amazing to think how people frequented these familiar routes for centuries before us. In our own parish of Thorpe, we have Monk’s Walk, which comes out on church approach, just by St Mary’s and was the route from Chertsey Abbey, quite possibly for over a thousand years! And it’s not so far to the south that we have the Pilgrim’s Way on the Downs and obviously also the footpaths that run alongside the River Thames which has been a major highway in this country for centuries.
Make a way for the Lord, John cries out. What does that even mean? Does he mean make a path like those who laid down Palms did for him in Jerusalem, a few years later – yet they were the ones who later called for his blood. How much is this an individual or communal pathway? I suspect part of it is making a pathway to our hearts, to allow God to enter into our lives, our thoughts, our hearts, our very being.
And yet this is also a communal way of being – we can help and support each other in doing this. And in community we carve out ways of being, particularly worship, that make the most sense through being done together.
There is also an even broader sense, in that we are to make ways clear for Christ to be proclaimed in society, even to the world. Our lives, our actions, how we try to influence and encourage society, again both individually and corporately, needs to be in order to make the path clear for all to see Jesus.
I wonder if today we might think about the ways in which we shape ourselves, which then goes on into how we treat and interact with others. What are the highways of the heart that our forebears have carved out for us? There are so many prayerful practices and spiritual disciplines that shape our hearts and minds to be open to God. There’s Ignatian discernment, and lectio divina, there’s the rosary and angelus and the Hail Mary. And above all, gifted from Christ himself, there is the receipt of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Whether or not we can participate fully, as we’ve truly learnt with all our lockdowns, spiritual reception, prayerfully attending the mass, even if we do not physically partake, is a holy blessing to us all. At mass, we hear God’s word, we receive teaching to guide and encourage and even challenge us, and then participating in the Eucharist is participating in the great prayer of the church, meditating on Christ’s death and resurrection, on the life he gave for us and the eternal life he gives us.
So as we prepare for Christmas, this Adventide, we can do so by re-treading those highways and byways in our hearts that make the way clear for Christ to come in. So we can fervently pray, Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus.
Hope of the World!
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, Light of the World!
We thank you that in John, we hear the call to prepare the way for you
We thank you for the prophecy of Isaiah, proclaiming your coming
We thank you that you come, that you are the salvation for whom we are awaiting
Open our hearts, open our minds, and make the way clear for us to receive you again
We ask this in your name, the one born in Bethlehem.