I did a quick inventory this week of what I have in my car.
In the front side pocket
I carry a Bible and a Book of Common Prayer.
(You might expect that a priest would have those, right?)
There’s also a pitifully out of date church directory
but it generally gets me your phone number and street address
if I need to be in touch while on the road
or trying to find your house to visit.
There is an assortment of maps in the other side pocket,
even though I haven’t looked at a map in two years.
Now I just say pick up my phone and say,
“Siri, I need directions to....”
There is a first aid kit that has come in handy,
a toolbox my son gave me when he was in middle school,
a coat hanger in case you need my help to get your car door open
if you lock your keys inside,
an assortment of CDs,
my mileage book,
some quarters for the parking meters downtown--
Big umbrellas, little umbrellas.
I counted five.
Travel with me and you won’t get wet.
I like to be prepared.
So why did I take this inventory of my Subaru’s contents?
Because of John the Baptist.
Didn’t you hear ?
He says PREPARE...
PREPARE the way.
Last week we heard in the scriptures BE READY.
This week we hear PREPARE THE WAY.
Advent is a time of preparation,
a time of hopeful preparation.
though I don’t think John the Baptist was talking about multiple umbrellas.
Prepare the way.
Make the paths straight.
Advent is not a penitential season like Lent
but John does call us to repent.
And that word,
metanoia in Greek,
means to turn around, to go a different way, to make some changes.
We like that theologically.
But oh how hard it is to change our paths.
The old ways get so comfortable, so easy.
Our path starts to wander
and before we know it,
we have built stone walls to keep the path
from every changing or being straightened.
John calls us to a different way.
John is a feisty fellow.
He certainly seems capable of tearing down a wall or two.
Look at the way he is dressed.
Camel hair and a leather belt.
Did he even wear sandals or just go barefoot?
I think John would be very comfortable in Asheville.
Look at what he eats.
Locusts and wild honey.
(I don’t think he will be approached to host coffee hour,
but he would certainly be comfortable with the slow food movement).
John lives a simple, bare bones life.
He knows what matters.
John is getting ready.
John is preparing for the One who will come.
Prophets see the world in a different way.
I heard a marvelous interview on NPR this week
with a young pianist, Yuga Wang.
She was speaking about Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3--
she referred to as “Rach 3”.
She describes it as the most famously difficult piece of piano music
But she loves it.
“I am always amazed by improvisations
because of how they turn around a motif
and can just be all creative about how everything is connected.”
How everything is connected.
I think this is what the prophets saw.
I think this is what John the Baptist knew.
We need to be prepared because we are not in this world by ourselves.
We are connected to everything and everyone
and there is One to come
who is the ultimate connector.
I love the way Presbyterian minister Tom Long describes John the Baptist.
As the door to a new era swings open, John the Baptist is the ideal hinge. He is dressed like the old age, but he points to the new. His preaching style is vintage Old Testament; his message paves the way for the new Israel. He appears to have wandered out of some retirement home for old prophets, but he announces the arrival of one who is even greater than the prophets. He baptizes with the water of the ancient Jordan River; he promises the coming of one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Everything is about to change. The old is passing away, the new presses in. The long, lost night of hopelessness is coming to an end, and John the Baptist is the rooster who awakes the sleeping world with dawn’s excited cry.
Everything is about to change.
This is where we stand in this advent season.
John the Baptist is preparing us for this
and we are called to prepare ourselves.
Everything is about to change
but the good news is,
just like the Rach 3 piece of piano music,
everything is interconnected.
The kingdom of God will soon appear in the flesh.
Imagine that--the Messiah coming into the world as a baby.
Jesus is going to be a very different Messiah
than anyone had imagined.
Even John the Baptist is going to be surprised.
This Messiah will not come as a powerful king
with a sword and fiery judgment.
This Messiah, this Jesus,
will come offering peace and love and mercy.
The war against the powers of evil and oppression will be waged---
but In such unexpected ways.
Even though John may not be completely prepared for all the details,
John knows that the change is a big one
as this kingdom of heaven draws near.
It is not just about making a few tweaks and improvements on one’s life.
It is about seeing the world in a radically different way
and embracing a new way of life.
I love these two icons of John the Baptist.
One is more traditional.
Brought to me by some friends who took a trip to Greece.
In this one John looks rather fierce--
I especially love his hair--
it’s unruly as if to say,
“What?! You think there’s time to worry about my hair out here in the wilderness!??!!”
And then there is this icon.
By a Latino artist (Br. Arturo Olivas, SFO)
John looks a bit loopy.
But in a good news, joyful sort of way.
This John is saying that once we make those paths straight
it’s going to be better than we ever hoped.
He holds his hand pointing to the One who is coming
as if to say,
“This guy who’s coming--
He is awesome!
Just you wait and see!
Prepare the way!”
Both these images of John
let us know that something is about to happen
that is BIG.
And that is good news.
That is not news to frighten us
(Well, that burning the chaff is a wee-tad frightening)
But Advent is about hope.
As cantankerous as John the Baptist may sound to our 21st century ears,
he is filled with hope.
Everything--EVERYTHING---is going to be made new.
Advent calls us to prepare the way, to straighten the paths,
to make room --
to make room for something new to be born in our lives.
And John the Baptist tells us
what is coming
is beyond our wildest imaginations.
Way, way beyond our most wonderful dreams!
A wonderful source for icons is Trinity Stores: https://www.trinitystores.com