Advent II

  • 9 December 2021
  • Briony Davidson

Philippians 1:1-6

Luke 3:1-6.

Good morning to you all here and to everyone on zoom! It so wonderful that you can join us today. As someone who has been teaching Christmas religious education lessons since the beginning of November, I must admit it was quite a nice change to be able to focus on John today. The heading at the top of our passage in Luke chapter 3 is ‘John the Baptist Prepares the Way’. And it got me thinking about people that do the same for us today. Preparing the way can mean many things like giving us advice, or making something clear, getting things ready, it can even be a warning. 

For me, it brought to mind my time performing in various shows, particularly, it brought the job of the stage manager to my mind. The stage manager is the one who ‘prepares the way’ for these shows. They make sure everything is where it needs to be before we start, they make sure everyone knows what they are doing, and they announce what we refer to as our ‘stage calls’. 

These calls start a few hours before the show and basically, they are the performers’ warning about how long they have until the show begins. Up in the dressing rooms as we are getting ready or finishing our before show rituals, we hear this voice over the speaker say “performers this is your one-hour call, performers – your one-hour call” followed later by the half hour, the fifteen minute and then every five minutes until we hear the words we’ve been waiting for “this is the beginners call, beginners to the stage”. And everyone who is in the first scene heads down to start the show. 

In our passage, John the Baptist is sort of like the stage manager. In ancient times, kings would send ahead a herald to announce their coming. And that is exactly what John does. John announces the coming of Jesus. Now, the names at the beginning of this passage (that were read so well by Elaine!) not only help scholars to date John’s ministry, but they also give us context as to the political and religious climate of the time, alluding to the tension and corruption that existed between the secular and the religious powers of authority. 

The naming of these various influential people also highlights that again God, through John, is using someone society wouldn’t expect, someone who isn’t in a position of high authority, to share his news with the people. And what news it is. John comes with an important message about repentance, sin and the one who is to come. He quotes Isaiah chapter 40, and says to ‘prepare the way for the lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads will become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’ 

Here in front of them is the herald, who himself was part of a prophecy told long ago. John is giving a warning, he is giving them notice, a king is coming. And not just any king – the king of kings, the king that will make salvation available to all people. It is incredible, hope-filled news. And it is not all that John has to say.   

Now, bear with me as I flip back to my stage manager example, we have seen how the role of the stage manager is to announce the arrival of the beginning of the show. Similarly, John has announced the arrival of the Lord, the arrival of Jesus. What I want to focus on now, is what the response to these announcements are. When the stage manager announces the call times, it spurs the performers into further action. The announcement spurs action. Performers will then move to fetch props, put the finishing touches on their costumes, their hair, their makeup. Vocal warm ups tend get more intense and if you were to walk backstage at this point you would probably be very confused upon hearing the cacophony of weird, loud, seemingly random *rolls tongue, siren, ma ma ma.* noises that you would hear.

Moving past those strange noises that I’ve just publicly showcased – the stage manager’s call, their warning has spurred the performers into action. And this is exactly what John’s announcement is meant to do here. It is what, in verse 3, he goes and does place to place around the country of the Jordan. Not only is John informing the people of what is coming, he also speaks of what the people must do in response. He spurs people into action. It’s the continuation of John’s role as the herald. To clean up in preparation for the king. What John is referring to in verse 3 is repentance. It says he was preaching a baptism of the repentance of sins. The action of turning away from your sins, genuinely repenting, and turning to God. The baptism of repentance is one that releases us from sin. John is telling the people to clean up their spiritual lives, to clean up their minds. God’s forgiveness is something that helps release us from the mess our sin has made because the Lord is coming. And, God’s forgiveness is not just forgiveness, but it is also victory over sin and freedom from sin. John is warning them, spurring them into action, and baptising those who are willing to repent, in preparation for the coming king. 

John is the herald of the Messiah, the stage manager, the baptiser, and he is the latest in a long line of many who have foretold Jesus’ coming throughout the bible. God has given his people plenty of warning, plenty of time, and now it is time for action. This repentance is just the beginning, John will go on to speak of further actions to be taken, he goes on to instruct the people how to live. And in our passage from Philippians, we see Paul speaking of the lives lived by those who have repented and turned to follow God and Jesus, doing his work. 

Relating this information to our context today is rather simple, I think. For there is always a need to call for repentance, to encourage those around us to turn to God, to live our lives mirroring Jesus, to live our lives for God. It might be repentance for the first time, but it can also be a good reminder to any of us who need to refocus our minds back on God, particularly as we live in a society that constantly tells us to put ourselves first. Turn to God. We can also use this passage as reminder that we are also in a time of waiting, we have our warning, we have had our stage call telling us that Jesus will be coming again. So let us be spurred into action as we await his arrival. 

Let me pray. 

Dear lord, I pray that we might turn to you, knowing that we are forgiven and part of your family. Help us to live our lives honouring you, preparing for the day when Jesus shall come again. Amen. 

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