The following notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham, England:
“We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered national disasters, rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed, and swindled. The only reason we keep going is to see what happens next.”
We read in today’s Gospel that immediately prior to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist was proclaiming what Luke has called a “baptism of repentance.” Like so many of the prophets before him, John was preparing the people for what would happen next, he says to the crowds that came to be baptized by him, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4-6).
So much of our faith journey involves preparation, making ready, inviting God to help us to put our spiritual house in order. And we do that because we know an honoured guest is coming…someone who we want to bring the most precious of gifts to – and of course the guest is Jesus, the Saviour of all the world, the King of Glory.
And in our Gospel reading we find three steps necessary to help us prepare and make ready. The three steps are:
(a) John went into the desert,
(b) the word of God came to him, and
(c) John left the desert and went about proclaiming the faith.
We also must pass through these three stages to arrive at the stage where we begin to live a life of faith with joy.
Stage 1- We go into the desert.
The desert is a place of being alone with God and incredibly it is in the desert or wilderness that God’s people so often found themselves in a place of transformation or blessing.
We go into the desert when we take time off our normal job and household occupation to be with God in church, in prayer, in reading the word of God. The desert is the place where we encounter God; it is a place free from distractions. We ourselves must take the first step to go into the desert, to reach out to God, to look for God.
Stage 2 – The word of God comes to us.
Once we open our hearts to God in the desert, God Himself comes and fills us up. A saint once said that when we take one step to God, God takes two steps to us. At this stage God takes the initiative to come to us, to fill us, to renew us, to transform us, to remould us into His image that we are created to be. This is the stage that some people call being born again. When this happens to us we would like to spend the whole day alone with God in church, in prayer, in Bible reading. But like John we must go on to live our lives and carry out our duties in the family and in the society.
Stage 3 – We go about proclaiming the faith.
Having experienced the goodness of the Lord in our own lives, our next desire is to share this experience with others. It’s like we are wearing a T-shirt with the inscription, “Wow, God is great!” People look at us and see the joy and peace and serenity that radiates from us and they would like to be like us. They would like to be our friends. And then we can in turn help them by showing them the pathway to the desert, the place where they, in their turn, will encounter God personally. The experience of God is like the experience of love. You can tell people about it but they will not understand what you are talking about until they themselves experience it.
We desperately need prophets in the church today who can encourage us to make ready, to prepare, to listen to God. What happens next – what we are preparing for – is truly spectacular and it is incredible if we seek to live our lives in the knowledge of that. Remember, Jesus has come; Jesus will come again. As you journey through advent and prepare for what happens next my prayer echoes that of Paul… that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. Amen