His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit ; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
Do you ever struggle to live up to other people’s expectations? What’s worse, is that many people have hugely unrealistic expectations to deal with. John was one such child. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, clearly have big, God-given expectations for him. I wonder if they were satisfied with him? I wonder if they thought his life would end the way it did, beheaded while sitting in prison? I assume that they did understand his life, and that they were proud of him. It seems like they understand well, the role he was to play. They appear to embrace it; to relish in it. I think Zechariah understood that in a similar way that most people will “rage against the dying of the light” to borrow the words of poet Dylan Brown, the darkness rages at the coming of the light. Both John and Jesus would be marked men from birth. They had to be. And yet, they came anyway. They lived anyway. They taught, baptized, and proclaimed the Good news anyway. They died anyway. And Jesus, Jesus was raised on the third day, calling for the immanent death of death itself. The old ways are dying; the new ways are coming. None of this would have been possible without John the Baptist.
John prepared the way for the Lord, Jesus. He preached salvation through the forgiveness of sins. He sought to guide our feet into the path of peace. His ministry was integral to God’s great rescue plan. John proclaimed the difficult truth that not many wanted to hear, but all need: we are sinners, we’ve wandered away from God, we must repent, turn around, live into God’s calling for us, and embrace the coming Messiah and his ways. Advent is a chance to become acquainted, or re-acquainted with the ministry of John the Baptist. It’s a time that calls us all to repentance, to turning around (metanoia), to kneeling, to prayer, to a posture of open receptivity to the new thing that God continues to do in our lives. Jesus has come. Jesus is coming. Jesus will come again. Are you ready? Are you willing to repent, and change your ways? Are you willing to allow the Gospel message to sink so deeply into you that you begin loving enemies, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and dying, loving the unlovable, and living for Him and His ways rather than for yourself? Hear the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, the one who prepared a way. That way is prepared. Now, prepare to receive Jesus anew.
Today, as you pray, pray that your heart would be prepared to receive Jesus anew this year. Pray that your life would be prepared to receive Jesus anew this year. Pray that the world would be prepared to receive Jesus anew this year – not through a particular candidate, party, law, or country, but through the transformed lives of God’s called-out people the Church. Christ-followers pick up the mantle of John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the Lord. We are called to live lives that clearly testify to our love for God and others – not just God, and not just others. God and others. Does your life look like this from the outside? Do people notice? If not, pray that God would break through to your heart, and transform your life, that you would be a living sacrifice, as Paul says, helping to prepare the way for Jesus. If people do notice God’s love in you, love for both God and others, then pray that God would give you more of this love and grace, for you will need it! Good, faithful disciples pray daily for more and more of God’s grace and love, knowing that they must be continually transformed by the renewal of their minds into the image of Christ Jesus (Romans 12:2). Today, pray that God would allow you to receive, or re-receive the gift of the Son, of Jesus, into your heart, your life, and your world. And then, be prepared to receive this undeserved, but freely given gift.