See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
We’ve all heard about John the Baptist (aka The Baptizer).i John was a big deal in 30 AD? ii.
John’s a major figure, in the Synoptic Gospels. iii John told everyone that he was merely a messenger, And he preached about Jesus of Nazareth,
who he believed was the long-awaited Messiah,
the Lamb of God. iv
John was, and is, a very big deal. v But who was he?
John the Baptizer was the son of Zachary, a Temple priest. Zachary’s wife, and John’s mom, was named Elizabeth. Elizabeth was very close to Mary, Jesus’ Mother.vi
Both heard about their pregnancies from the angel Gabriel. vii Mary, and unmarried girl, went to visit Elizabeth, when Mary got the big news about her baby, Jesus.
Mary gave birth to Jesus at a very young age, but Elizabeth was very much a grown up,
when she gave birth to John.
We know very little about John’s early days.
But we know that his conception and birth, viii
Were, and are, big parts of God’s Salvation Plan.
Some people say that John the Baptizer was Jesus’s cousin. But we don’t really know. Probably doesn’t matter much. ix John never bragged about it!
John was around 30 years old, well into his life’s journey x. When John grew up, God called him to live in the wilderness… He ate bugs and leaves, and stuff.
No Whataburger. No Walmart. No Target.
Since he mainly ate bushes and leaves,
I’d guess that he was a pretty skinny guy.
Since John wore uncured animal skins,
I’d guess he wasn’t too popular.
People knew he was coming … from a long way off!
John travelled about, claiming to be God’s oracle. xi
But his day job was working as a preacher, and a Baptizer,
In ancient Greek, the word Gospel means “Good News” , And “Good News” was what John the Baptist was all about! John was the 1st voice of the Good News!
People were conservative back then, just like today. Many didn’t like change. Many didn’t like John’s River Baptisms.
John seemed to say you don’t need the Temple.
You can reach God on your own. xii
The Temple leaders didn’t like John, at all.
Like many famous people today,
The Baptizer made different impressions on different people. Some liked him and others didn’t.
Folks didn’t know what to make of John.
The New Testament differs on what John thought about Jesus. xiii
Matthew’s Gospel says John recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and that John said to Jesus, “I am not worthy to Baptize you.”
Mark’s Gospel tells us that John foresaw a Messiah, But Mark doesn’t say that John thought Jesus was the Messiah.
But in Mark’s Gospel, God helped out — by sending a dove, Which declared that Jesus really was God’s son.
It’d be nice to see a dove like that, once in a while.
In today’s Gospel, Luke skips most of the chatter.
He gets right to business…
Luke we are told was a physician, and a Greek.
Greeks were very imaginative,
but they really weren’t too mystical.
I tend to see Luke as a very accurate reporter.
Luke offers a quick intro to John the Baptist.
He mentions some important names,
to help us orient the events in time, and add credibility. And then he gets right to John the Baptist’s (misquote) of Isaiah.
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ “xiv
The scriptures are not always clear.
But we they do tell us this simple Truth:
Jesus changed everything.
And John the Baptizer was a big part of that.
Jesus changed everything. Jesus is why we have ADVENT. No one alive now knows the direction the World will go, But we do know that we’ve heard the Good News.
We do know that our task is to share that Good News, everywhere! What does that kind of sharing look like?
Are we or our children or grandchildren
supposed to camp out in front of Best Buy,
for the best deals on stuff we don’t really need? I don’t think so. We all know better than that.xv
Are we supposed to pray this Advent?
Yes, we are. Prayer is a very good idea.
Jesus lived a life of prayer.
And what are we called to pray for?
For the courage to envision this place coming alive! For the courage to grab hold of Jesus’ vision,
And then to act. Boldly. Bravely. Sacrificially.
Advent is about being prayerful.
And Advent is about action.
Advent is about doing what Jesus has called us to do.
Advent is about touching lives.
Right here, where we live and work.
Advent is about going out into the World, and pushing back. Against the forces of darkness …
that consume us and ravenously swallow our lives.
As we sing in our beloved hymn, “Joy to the World.” “Let every heart prepare him room.”
Make a place for Jesus, this Advent.
One step at a time. One life at a time.
One hug at a time. One smile at a time.
Open your heart! Make room for the good news of Jesus. Remember the song from the play, “Godspell”? xvi
Day by day
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord, Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day.
Every valley shall be filled …and the rough ways made smooth; Everyone shall see God’s salvation.
That’s what Advent is all about.
iIn seminary, to avoid offending our Southern Baptist friends, we called him John the Baptizer. Also, we wanted to focus on what he did, e.g. baptizing people. In plain English, he was a Baptizer. Not a Baptist.
ii Or 30 CE (“common era””, in modern religiously neutral terminology.
iii Mark, Matthew and Luke.
iv See, John 1:23–34.
v For both Christians and Muslims.
vi While the details vary slightly from Gospel to Gospel, it seems that Elizabeth was either Mary’s BFF or part of Mary’s family. However the details worked out, Jesus and John certainly knew each other and very well. Remember that, on hearing of John’s execution, Jesus withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (See, Matthew 14:13).
vii Gabriel was busy back then. Wonder what he’s up to these days?
viii The Gospel of Luke says John the Baptist and Jesus were relatives.
ix— if we accept that John was God’s oracle, which I do!
x He seemed to preach, according to some scholars, about two Messiahs. A lamb of God and a warrior who would smite Israel’s enemies. He wasn’t sure, initially, which sort of Messiah Jesus was. See, John 1:29,3:17, Matthew 3:7-10, 11:1-3, and Luke 7:22.
xi He knew the chilly waters of River Jordan, very well. Back then, most baptisms took place in the temple. John’s River Baptism was unique, and got a lot of attention
xii People still say that.
xiii Matthew and Mark emphasize John as a strange guy, who ate locusts.
xiv It is important to note that the OT, first written in ancient Hebrew, was translated into Greek circa 285–247 BCE. That older form of Greek was different from the Greek used by the writers of the NT, just as English today is nto quite the same as English in the 17th century. Neither Greek nor the Hebrew had punctuation, but it is notable that there are disti9cntiosn between the quote as in Isiah, and as repeated by John the Baptist and written down by Luke, in today’s Gospel.
Luke 3:1-6 reports that John, using the Hebrew Scriptures citing Isaiah 40:3-4, declared:
“As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.'” (Luke 3:4).
However, if we assume that John was quoted correctly, he was mistaken, since the Hebrew Scriptures actually translate as:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God'” (Isaiah 40:3).
Notably, other NT writers quoted John the Baptist, without correction, as follows:
“For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight'”” (Matthew 3:3).
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.'” (Mark 1:3). And, “…’I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD….” ‘ (John 1:27).
The New Testament seems to show John the Baptist describing himself, as the “voice crying in the wilderness,” whereas Isaiah wrote that the Lord’s way would be prepared in the wilderness.
For Christians, whose theology demands that the Old and New Testaments were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and are perfectly accurate in the original writings, this discrepancy reveals a problem. One way to work around this is to affirm that the original documents are without error, but that the translators erred. Why the Holy Spirit would allow errors in translation is not easily explained.
Notably, both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament koine Greek, are without punctuation. Translators have to make choices, and very often words and phrases in one language don’t easily translate. How would an ancient Greek translate our word “tire” or “retire”?
One website claims that the Gospels speak to what John the Baptist said in reference to Isaiah, where John is spoken of in the 3rd person, whereas John the Baptist referred to himself in the 1st person. It is asserted that this switch required a change in wording , to remain grammatically correct in Greek. With that claim I do not agree, although I am no Greek scholar.
I suggest that John intentionally changed Isaiah 3:40 because John saw himself as God’s voice, and he was, for whatever reason, calling out in the wilderness. See, cf,
xv Not unless we’re stocking up for the homeless shelter.
xvi It’s not really about Christmas, but in these hard times, its songs are worth hearing again.