This was my reflection for Eucharist Wednesday morning (14 December 2016) at St. B’s. The Gospel reading for morning prayer was Mark 1:1-7. They are familiar words to anyone who has ever been to a Christmas service, citing Mal. 3:1 and Isa. 40:3.
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
For some reason whenever I hear the phrase “prepare the way of the Lord” I think of part of an old Mike Warnke sketch. ((Warnke was a “Christian comedian” active in the 1980s. He was discredited in the thorough and factual exposé by Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein for Cornerstone Magazine in 1992.)) The line that is stuck in my head is “you don’t take a shower to take a bath.” He meant that we don’t need to “get cleaned up” before being baptized and accepting Christ as our savior. God will take us just as we are.
There is a lot of truth to that statement and it is surprising to me how many people feel they need to “get sorted” before accepting Jesus as their savior. Of course my mind tends to work in some literal ways and so I also thought about the fact that when I have been working out in the yard and am truly covered in filth, I do hose down before getting into the shower/bath. I know it is a metaphor and not to be taken literally, but I do think I can extend it just that little bit. What work does God do to “prepare the way of the Lord” in our lives?
The other thought I had when considering John the Baptist’s ministry is what could did his preparing the way do? People still rejected Jesus and in the end he was (had to be) handed over to be crucified. John’s ministry was two fold. In the first instance he came declaring the need for the repentance and forgiveness of sins. A vital element of preparation in our lives is first the recognition that we have need of forgiveness.
This sort of preparation continues in our lives, but I think the challenge for us is to see it as such. It is far too easy for me to see this growing awareness in my life of a need for repentance and forgiveness as just additional hardship. For example, things are “weighing me down” perhaps there is something there of which I need to repent. I think the key is intentional reflection. If we just go through life with things happening to us but without ever considering how they are affecting us, it simply piles up on top of us. But if we regularly take time to reflect and consider what is occurring and why, repenting where need be, accepting and growing through the changes at other times, then these things build us up, strengthen us, and draw us closer to Christ.
John’s second aspect of his ministry was to direct us to Christ.
7 He proclaimed, “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. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
And we don’t need to wait to receive either baptism. God is preparing us now, he is willing to receive us, if we are willing to receive him.