I am thinking about how, some years ago, a group of us from Redeemer – organized by one of our confirmation youth – joined in an Anti-Racism event here in New Paltz; proclaiming that Black Lives Matter and God’s righteousness calls for things to continue to change in this world, so as to bring justice and equality for all people.
I am thinking about how, in the years before the pandemic, we had begun to have a church picnic and training event that led us down the street and into the world to march in the Hudson Valley Pride Parade, proclaiming that the Christ through the Church welcomes and loves all people and repents of the ways that human sin has gotten in the way of that clear message in the past.
I am thinking about how we are gathering in food and Christmas presents today and blessing them, then sending them to help three families in need, proclaiming that all people deserve to live with dignity and plenty.
And I am retelling these stories, not so that we can pat ourselves on the backs, but because it can be hard to understand what it means when John the Baptist says “prepare the way of the Lord…so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
John the Baptist, coming of a long-line of Old Testament prophets, was calling the people of his day to turn away from all the things that distracted them from focusing on God and God’s will. Prepare! John the Baptist, speaking to us today, is calling us to prepare! Prepare the way for Christ to enter our hearts and to make Christ known to the world. Set aside our distractions and call each other to action!
Turning away from the sin of only thinking of ourselves, we gather a harvest to help others in need. Turning away from the sin of racism we gather our hearts and energies to rise in solidarity with our siblings of color to labor for change. Turning away from the individual sin and the Church’s sin of wrongly judging the sexuality and gender identity of others, we move into the world with a message of healing and a desire to do better.
The words of John the Baptist to us in this Advent season are not an abstract, watered-down prelude to the birth of Christ a few weeks from now. The gospel of Luke locates today’s gospel story of John the Baptist deeply within the context of history with not just one or two historical characters, but with seven religious and secular figures. Luke does not want us to miss that this is not as abstract story, a mythology or tale at which to politely nod our heads. This call from John the Baptist to change our lives is here and now, sitting next to us at home and in this sanctuary.
John the Baptist was the son of a small-town priest and a barren mother who could have no children until God worked a miracle. And a child named John was conceived and born, became John the Baptizer, calling everyone who would listen to prepare. Prepare for the coming of God!
And this is so often how God works. Taking folks that the world considers small or unimportant and making them essential characters in the narrative. You and I might consider ourselves small or unimportant characters on the stage of life, but we all matter. Our actions, small and large, matter – as people and as a church.
We are called to prepare our lives, but also to prepare this church to step out in the world with an invitation to turn away from all our distractions and instead focus on the new life of God in Christ that seeks to be born every day into our lives and into this world.
Without a confirmation student calling us forth, we would not have been at that Anti-racism rally. Without individuals passionate and planning, we would not have been training ourselves up as warriors of love to greet our LGBTQ neighbors. Without many hands and hearts prioritizing this effort, we would not be bringing in the bags of food and presents for families in need that we will today.
The need for prophetic voices did not end with John the Baptist.
All of us can make a difference.
All of us are called to prepare, to be changed, to welcome the Christ child into our lives so that the world might come to know that despite all of the sin and human brokenness, there is a deeper narrative, there is a deeper love, there is grace and it is for all people, without exception.
This is our calling.