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The Way We Prepare for the Lord

December 5, 2011

Our Old Testament passage today contains the words, “‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord’” (Isaiah 40:3). The imagery behind this is preparing a road for royalty, making it easy for the King to come to you by removing obstacles, hindrances, and barriers. It’s a concept that we, who are able to be here this morning because of the removal of the barrier of snow on the roads, can understand!

How can we prepare the way for the Lord? If we look closely at today’s Gospel, we find the answer:

Mark 1:2 says, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way …’”

We see that it is God who does what it takes to prepare the way for Jesus, our King – by sending John the Baptist. So we don’t consult ourselves or one another to try to figure out what needs to take place for us to be prepared the Lord’s coming in our lives. Rather, we pay attention to John’s actions and message.

His message of how to prepare was a simple one: John appeared, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

“Repentance” means to “do a 180”– we were turned away from God (like being turned away from the light, and so not able to see our way because of our own shadow); now we turn to God. In our Baptismal Service, we ask, “Whenever you sin [not “if”], will you repent and return to the Lord?” Like the prodigal son, we have tried to remove ourselves from our Father’s Presence in a far off land. Repentance is coming to our senses and going home.

Repentance was to be accompanied by a radical action: Baptism. Baptism of Gentiles already took place, but this was of Jewish people – those who were already part of the Covenant people.  John was saying that they needed to enter the Promised Land through the Jordan a second time. They needed a new beginning, a fresh start – to be cleansed within. And his Baptism in water was a symbol of this deeper Baptism that was to come.

John continued: “The One who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:7-8) (N. T. Wright, in his commentary, Mark for Everyone, translates “Baptize” with the word “plunge ” [p. 1]. You could also use the word “drench.” Think of the hot, arid climate of the wilderness of Judea, and you get the idea of the life-giving refreshment of which John is speaking.) 

In other words, we are prepared for the Lord by letting the Lord do the preparing – to flood us with his Spirit and transform us from within.

(adapted from my sermon at our December 4 Services)

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