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.’” Luke 3:1-6
Every year, the second weekend of Advent, John the Baptizer appears in our readings with his distinctive look and his distinctive message. Every year, the second weekend of Advent, John the Baptizer shows up not only in the wilderness of Judea, but in the wilderness we call Mount Calvary. For those of us accustomed to hearing John’s story, we know the mighty action of God about to follow. We know that John’s presence means that God is about to do a new thing among His people and there are preparations to be made. In the days of John and Jesus, God’s people believed that the spirit of prophecy (the gift given to men and women who would bring a clear and decisive word from God) had died out several hundreds of years before. The rabbis taught that this spirit would return just before the Messiah would come, just before God would send a new King to ascend the throne of David and save God’s people from their enemies and bring about a new hope. We know that crusty, colorful old John was the surprise God sent the people to stir their hearts and expectations. We know that John, from the moment of his miraculous birth to the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth, was a shock to everyone’s system, a disrupter of everyone’s carefully honed routines and ruts. Everything about him, from his clothing, diet and message screamed “Stay away!” But his words, his faith, his passion…. drew you anyway. God, in God’s very characteristic way, had chosen an unlikely messenger in an out-of-the-way place to open the eyes of those who had become blind, to put a fire in those whose hearts had become burdened and heavy-laden, and to remind the people to keep their eyes wide open for the surprises God was about to reveal.
People of God, do you have eyes wide open for those surprises God is about to unveil? Do you have that fire kindling within you that is seeking God’s Word and wonders for your burdened and laden heart? Do you trust that God will provide the prophet, the grace, the challenge and the hope you need to know that presence of God has drawn near and that, with God, hope is always yet to be? Would you know it when God’s messenger has shown up in your wilderness and bid you to bring your heart and your minds home?