December 5, 2021, Holy Road Work, Luke 3:1-14 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
Sometimes there is a person you’ve known for a long time, and you hear something new about them, and it changes the way you look at them forever.
Sometimes that happens with the Bible as well. We’re reading along and something appears that changes our understanding, opens our eyes and makes it bigger,
John the Baptist’s words are so familiar to us that we think we have understood them – “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.’
John had been sent out to prepare the hearts of the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah. In fact, he was born for that purpose: At his birth, his father said:
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
John was preparing the way for the coming of Jesus, calling the people of Israel to repent, making their hearts ready to receive him, straightening the crooked ways, smoothing the rough paths, humbling the proud and lifting up the humble. He called them to live their lives in a new way. And when we read this, John calls us to open our hearts as well, to repent of those things that separate us from Jesus so that we can receive him afresh. And he calls us to take a look at the way we are living our lives now, and to make the changes we need to make. He gave them practical advice (vv 10-14)
And that is a wonderful word, and a helpful one.
But then we read the words of Baruch the prophet. (about Baruch)
Baruch was writing in the 6th century bc, about 5 years after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried the people off into exile, a century or more after Isaiah. It was a time of grief and suffering for the people of Judah, torn away from their homeland, that had been ravaged by their enemies.
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look toward the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
Baruch speaks the same words from the prophet Isaiah here, the mountains and hills being made low, the valleys lifted up – but now we see Isaiah’s words in a new light; now they have a bigger meaning. Baruch tells the people that God himself has ordained that the way be made open and level and smooth so that his children, scattered and far from home in their exile, can come safely home. In fact he says that God himself will bring them back home, carrying them in glory as if they were on a royal throne.
We hear John’s voice calling in the wilderness, the call for us to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus, the call to repent, to come clean.
Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
But there’s more to Isaiah’s prophecy than repentance. [do you remember the story that Jesus told about the Prodigal Son, who went off in selfish pride and came home in disgrace? And remember how the Father came running when the son was still a long way off.] In the coming of Jesus, suddenly we see the Prodigal Father, running out to meet us in our repentance, even our disgrace, to embrace us, and to bring us safely home from our exile.
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, wrote Baruch,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
“Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.”