SCRIPTURE: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-6

In the name of the God who creates, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen.

During the Advent season we are considering how “Hope is Alive” in our world today in

spite of the fact there are many signs of hopelessness all around us. This Second Sunday of

Advent is often called “John the Baptizer Sunday” because the gospel lesson is always about

John and his emphasis on preparing the way. It is reflected in the Christmas carol we sang a

few moment ago, “Angels from the Realm Glory”.

In September, Andrea and I went on one of our Wyoming adventures. After eating lunch

in Glendo, we took highway 111 toward Laramie Peak. After traveling a few miles on that highway

we realized we were driving in rural Wyoming. The scenery was beautiful, we saw some wild

flowers, a lot of grazing areas, then, I’m not sure what happened—either we blinked at the wrong

time, or sneezed, because the nice paved highway we were on, wasn’t. The road (if you could

call it that) suddenly became terrible.

It appeared that it had not prepared properly nor maintained adequately. It was deeply

rutted, full of rocks and sharp turns. It made it very difficult to drive. Andrea and I decided that

it was best to drive that road in my big bad boy truck rather than in her car, which is still back in


Then just as quick as we were on a not drivable road, we found ourselves on a smoothly

paved road that brought us to I-25. We were miles from anywhere and had been trying to drive

this nearly impassable road for at least forty minutes and then we hit the paved road. I don’t

know who planned or prepared that road. Maybe it was a rancher, or a mountain man who said

one day, “I’m going to build a road, because I am somebody!”

It is not uncommon for us to prepare the way for the “somebodies” of life. We may roll

out the red carpet, sweep the walk. Play a trumpet fanfare, salute, or shine a spotlight on them.

Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah (40:3-4) who calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make

straight in the desert a highway for God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every hill

made low, and the rough places made plain.”

This probably was not the inspiration for that rancher or mountain man on the road near

Laramie Peak, but it may well have been the inspiration for Malachi, writing a couple hundred

years after the prophet Isaiah, as he longs for a great king who will lead his people back into

relationship with God. He speaks of a messenger who will prepare the royal processional way for

this king. However, Malachi sees his messenger preparing the way for the king not in constructing

a highway, but in opening the hearts and spirits of the people.

He is described as a refiner’s fire and fuller soap. These are very strong images. The

refiner of silver sits and intensely watches for refining is exceeded in the slightest degree, the

silver will be ruined. The way the refiner knows the process of purifying is complete is when he

can see his own image reflected in the silver. Perhaps the implication of this image is that when

we are faithful to God, hard times, trials, and difficulties may refine us to that we reflect God’s

image and others can see that image in us. The reference to the fullers soap is not a reference

to a product sold by an early Brush Man, although they probably went door to door even back then.

The word “full” is from the Anglo-Saxon “fullian” meaning “to whiten”. The process of “fulling” involved pressing or scouring cloth in a mill using an alkali and boiled fat soap to bleach

and clean wool. Malachi’s messenger prepares the way of the king by calling us to clean-up and

purify our hearts and minds so we can receive him.

Our gospel lesson today is the introduction to John the Baptizer’s prophetic ministry. John,

like Malachi, calls us to prepare the way of the Lord by a change in our hearts and our actions.

John has been called the Scrooge of the Biblical story. Instead of saying, “Bah! Humbug!” he

says, “Repent!” Have you ever seen John the Baptizer’s face on a single Christmas card? We just

don’t get too excited about his message of repentance. But we should!

This passage in Luke is the setting for the Kingdom of God in relation to the reign of

human rulers. The call of John clearly reflects the call of the Hebrew prophets. Earlier, Luke has

written about John: “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn

hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the

righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (1:17). This is Luke’s way of

saying John is the beginning of God’s salvation for all peoples.

The baptism that John practiced was probably a water ceremony borrowed from the

Essenes that expressed both the individual’s repentance and God’s cleansing. It was believed that

the water ritual was not spiritually effective apart from genuine repentance. So, what we have in

John the Baptizer is a prophetic call in a strong emphasis on repentance, or ethical renewal, or a

changed life. He is both generous and demanding. He is generous in that what is offered is

extended to everyone. No one is excluded. No one is beyond the reach of God. He is demanding

in that we all have fallen short of the glory of God so all must turn and repent.

One of the popular concepts that gets a lot of play in our time is the idea of a “margin of

error.” We most often hear this term used in relation to surveys. A survey will have a margin of

error of plus or minus five percent. What this means is the survey could be wrong but still

considered right: if they were close. We husbands need a generous margin of error on a whole

list of subjects. For most of us preachers, the margin of error ought to be plus or minus twenty

minutes, the length of a typical sermon. The thinking here is sometimes we are right, sometimes

wrong, sometimes good, sometimes bad; but we ought to get some credit for at least trying.

My guess is John the Baptizer’s margin of error would be zero percent. John preached a

baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Everyone must turn from their old sinful ways. This is the only preparation that will allow us to

from their old ways, only then could they receive the embrace of Jesus.

John’s role is still part of the mission of the church today. It is still our task to call people,

all people, to turn from hurting themselves and others, to receive the life-giving love of God in

Christ. We are to turn from addictions and other self-destructive behaviors. We are to turn from

using others to meet our own selfish desires, from abusive language and demeaning and violent

actions. Our church needs to be a place where we do not tell people they are wrong, but help

them turn their lives from destruction to hope.

Through prayer, spiritual direction, education, small groups we help each other prepare

the way for Christ to enter our lives by turning away from anything that takes life away, and

toward those things that affirm and give life.

Part of our Advent preparation may be that in moments of quiet, we finally come face to

face with our true selves, and realize our need to turn our lives. This is Peace Sunday in

the Advent calendar. There is a peace that is found when we confess and repent of our hurtful ways.

When I was a kid, and probably when you were kids, our family put out a class of milk

and a plate of cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. A few years of doing that, my father asked

me and my siblings, “Do you think this is bribing or thanking Santa?” It makes you think. Are we

bribing Santa? My father said, “You bet, and I’m sure Santa isn’t fooled!” Do you remember the

song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town?” It says for goodness sake.

That’s what Jesus wants us to do. It is the only way to live. Live your life thanking God,

not trying to bribe him.

Friends, that is preparing the way! Let us continue to be in prayer, confessing our hurtful

and harmful ways of living that distance us from God and each other. As John Wesley, the founder

of the Methodist church would say, “How is it with your soul?”