What will we do to prepare the way in our world today?

The Rev. Tracy Heilman
Thursday, December 20, 2018

Courtesy photo

Rev. Tracy Heilman

Journeys in Faith

How do you call to mind the past events of your life?

For me, it’s usually about school. What grade I was in or what grade were my kids in when something momentous happened. I have a friend who remembered momentous occasions by what vehicle he drove. I recently read about a woman who marked events by what purse she carried.

In Luke 3:1-6, the writer marks time by reciting who held the positions of power in his world, the emperors, governors, high priests. Luke wants to anchor the preparation for and coming of Emmanuel (God with us) in the larger world political scene.

These words may seem too political for some. Many of us want to keep religion and politics separate, but Luke reminds us that our faith is intricately entwined with the world around us. Luke places the coming of God to the world right in the middle of the political reality of his people: Emmanuel (God with us) coming into the midst of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire was a power unlike any the world had ever seen. To many who lived in it, this civilization brought stability and wealth. To others, this was an empire that marched against its neighbors, ruthlessly stopped any resistance, and crucified those who spoke against it.

Luke’s audience knew that this Empire was led by Caesar Augustus, who was called Prince of Peace and the Son of God, and they also knew that his Empire leveled hills and raised valleys to enable Caesar’s army to travel to bring Roman “peace” to the empire.

Luke contrasts the empire’s politics of domination with the ways God will transform. Using Isaiah’s prophetic imagery of a “transformed landscape in which God’s way will be made visible,” Luke says that “Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

What God is about to do is for all people, soldier and peasant, Gentile and Jew. God’s way is not Caesar’s, but it is the way of peace.

And then, Luke introduces us to one who is utterly detached from the Empire. John the Baptizer lives in the wilderness. He does not participate in the Roman Empire. Because of this, he is the one who is sent to prepare the way and to call others to prepare the way. John was sent out to proclaim what needed doing. He shouted it out loud – in the wilderness, in the desert, in the city. There was a promise and an urgency: God is coming and the way is not yet made clear.

How is God going to break into a world where hatred rules over love, where fear rules over hope? Where children go hungry? Where families run from violence and seek a place of refuge? You get the idea. The way still needs to be prepared. 2000 years after the birth of God-with-us, and we still need to prepare the way.

How will we prepare in this Advent? What will mark this season for us in years to come? Will we remember this as the year where we brought to life the story of God’s love being born among us through an updated Christmas Pageant, cowboy-style? Or will this be the year that we step up do our part to bring this ancient story to life?

For God first spoke the good news of Jesus’ coming to an unwed, pregnant teen (Mary). The working poor (shepherds) were the first to receive the angelic message of his birth. The holy family fled violence and sought refuge in a different land.

Foreigners traveled miles and crossed borders to bring gifts celebrating the miraculous birth. If outcasts, the poor, refugees, and border crossers are first in God’s hearts, should they not also be first in ours?

This season of Advent is a time to prepare ourselves and our world for God’s way. The voice of one crying out in the wilderness saying prepare a way for God with us.

Will we hear the voice of God calling? What acts of ours will make Advent memorable this year? What will we do to prepare the way for God-with-us?