“Prepare the Way”
Luke 3:4-16, December 5th, 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
2nd Advent (year C) – 2nd candle “Peace”
“Hear now these ancient words as recorded in the gospel of Luke, chapter three, verses four thru sixteen.”
4 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. 5 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; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation and be satisfied with your wages.”
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 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.
“Having heard the fiery message of John the Baptist, what are we to now do with his words, here in the Twenty-First Century?!”
“Prepare the Way”
Today is the second Sunday in Advent; Advent is of course a time of ‘preparation,’ a time of preparing with anticipation for the arrival of the baby Jesus, (the coming of Christ into our lives,) as recorded in the Gospel accounts within the New Testament – in the back our Bibles. Incidentally, the Bible we use is the Revised Standard Version and you will find a copy under your seats or under the seat in front of you. Today’s accounting comes from the gospel account according to Luke. We like to also refer to Advent as a time to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christ Jesus’ so long, long, ago. In a sense we are celebrating Christ’s birth, as we believe that the ‘Spirit of Christ’ still ‘lives’ within the heart of all who have faith in the miracle of Christmas, as we have rejoiced, over the years, decades, centuries and yes, the two millennials since his birth. Over this span of time we have added and deleted different events that we now call our traditions, and customs related to this annual celebration and remembrance of the miraculous birth of a baby born in utter poverty; yet, mystically, has become the focal point of we Christians who believe that indeed he is the New Born King, the long awaited Messiah and Savior of us all, all who accept Christ into their lives.
This morning we hear about the work and the words of John the Baptist.
His mission was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. Although many wanted to make him their deliverer, he clarified that one greater than he would follow. That being said: John clearly stated what those gathered and all who wish to receive the Holy One, must do. ‘Repent’ was his action word, and he coupled that with words of condemnation for those gathered, seeking to reach the hearts of those sinners who were present and all those who were to hear his word. That certainly includes us! Verse seven of our reading says it clearly: ‘John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”’ Surely, he was not directing these words to the likes of us! Yet, he was clearing calling out those in the crowd and all who hear his words that without repentance and without a change in how they treat others… they were not in good graces with the coming of Christ! And surely these words are also meant for our ears, in this the present time, to hear as well! Repentance and changing how we treat others is truly important! Surely, many hearing these words are already reaching out to others with compassion and kind-heartedness, yet it is a good reminder and a stern warning for those who are not! Harsh words to hear, if we are willing to truly receive them, especially for those who have not repented and changed their ways.
This time of Advent, however, is more than just a mere celebration of a child’s birth. It is a time of preparation, as I have tried to share in our talk with the children. Preparations are being made for a great many things. Our volunteer choir is preparing to come together and help lead our Sunday services with times of hymnody; accompanied by our lead musician, Eddie, and our volunteer instrumentalists, thank you all. Our Music Director continues to strive to bring us together, thank you Mariana. Yes, we are still doing prerecorded musical selections such as we have been seeing each week. Our thanks go out to all who have been a part of this endeavor to uplift our times of worship with music. Yes, we have been blessed with a new arrival this past month who has been aiding me in trying to lead us in our live musical selections. My reading the hymns, to get us into singing once again, was challenging at its best. We thank Pamela for stepping up to the mike and helping out. The times of preparation by all have been heartfelt as they each have contributed and continue to contribute to our worship through songs of praise; songs which offer the soul hope, music that uplifts the spirit, accompanied by voices and instruments meant to bring peace to our hearts… as they take us away from the ‘chatter’ in our overworked and often-times overwhelmed minds. The real heart felt efforts by so many like the silent voices that manage the technology in our audio-visual booth, make our ability to come together possible. Thank you, Tyler, and all your helpers. We all know how hard it has been to fill those big shoes that Phil left with his passing this past year. But, my god, you and your team are making real strides holding us all together!
Preparation is what makes it all come together. New voices, new instrumentalist, each must become part of the rhythm of our service, which Adrienne helps me organize via our worship outlines and bulletins that we strive to follow. Thank you, Adrienne! Even me, your pastor must prepare for things. I strive to have the topics and thymes for our services at least a month or two in advance. I work to put together our litany’s, prayers, and responses each week, with the aid of a handbook we purchase every year. With a little rearranging, some editing, and creative writing, we get what we endeavor to use… as our litany every week. It all takes preparation. Why even the sign out by the street needs to be kept current to let passers-by and those seeking a place of worship ‘know’ what we are about – and who we are. It all takes preparation. Just like you and those sitting near you and those who are viewing this broadcast on-line, you need to do some preparing as well. As we look to today’s scripture, we see that John the Baptist also was seeking to prepare those who were willing to listen – he was seeking to prepare them for the coming of the ‘Holy-One’, Born of Mary, on that first Christmas, so long ago.
On a Sunday morning such as this, we may not be ready, we may not be
open to hearing that God, shall hold us accountable for our selfish and ‘I’ focused ways. No, just because it is the second Sunday of Advent, this does not mean we have been given a ‘free pass’ to continue to allow our self-will to run rampant upon our families, friends, and especially those around us who are marginalized and in need… do to our hostile and ungodly ways! This is what John the Baptist was saying to those whom he referred to as a brood of vipers! Thankfully, we here gathered are ‘not’ that group. Yet, we are only human too! Prayerfully, we can start, if we so choose, by first considering how we can prepare ourselves for what is to come! That is the answer to the rhetorical question I asked Nancy to read for us at the end of this morning’s lesson. “Having heard the fiery message of John the Baptist, what are we to now do with his words, here in the Twenty-First Century?!” It is also the second Sunday in Advent, and we just lit the candle of peace. I think most of us want some harmony, some calmness in our lives. Even the busiest and most aggressive of us take time to quiet down; and in those moments we are seeking some level of peace in our lives! If we desire peace in our lives, we need to prepare the way, by making any needed adjustments or changes that are needed in how we live our lives. Perhaps, we may want to consider how the scriptures speak of Jesus as, he lived his life amid our real lives, from birth to death, and all that comes in-between.
As we look to this time of preparation, we may wish to ponder our own attitudes and reflect on how we are living our lives. Surely none of us wish to be consider as a bunch of ‘ill willed self-seekers’. Rather, most of us clearly want to be well liked and surround ourselves with others who care about the wellbeing of those around us. We want to be part of the team that bring unity and consensus as to how we can best support the needs of our families and loved ones. Being it is the ‘peace candle’ which we honor this week, let us see where we can bring a sense of serenity and tranquility into the lives of those around us. Consider again the opening remarks of our lesson… as John the Baptists speaks of his becoming, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” John quotes from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. “‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (This is our opportunity to realign those aspects of our lives that need adjustment.) Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,” (We all have opportunities, ‘every day’ to take the ‘unnecessary’ hubbub and chaos out of our interactions with others.)John brings his exhortation to closure saying, “and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;” (Meaning of course that when we have done this – the ‘promise’ of Christ’s birth becomes our reality!) “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” /Luke 3:4-6/
Praise God, Halleluiah! Let peace begin within each one of us!