A Voice Crying in the Wilderness.....
As the Christian season of Advent approaches (actually begins on Sunday, Dec. 2), one of the familiar scripture passages that come to mind is from the gospel of Luke 3: 1-6. I think of John the Baptist as that voice crying in the wilderness and how extremely appropriate it is -- for without Christ the world is indeed a wilderness. Without Christ, the world is a prisoner of war camp and we are enslaved by the power of sin. Without Christ, this is a cold, dark, meaningless world.
In the second chapter of C.S. Lewis' book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," little Lucy stumbles through the back of a wardrobe into the imaginary country of Narnia. Although it's summer in England (where the wardrobe sits), it's winter in Narnia. Shivering in the cold, Lucy soon meets a faun, Mr. Tumnus, who tells her what wintertime is like in Narnia. The wintertime is perpetual, says Mr. Tumnus, and is the result of someone called the White Witch, "It's she who makes it always winter (here), Tumnus says, "Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!"
What a wonderful description of a world without Christ: "Always winter and never Christmas..."
John the Baptist's message is a word of warning, but ultimately it is a word of hope. Repent...our salvation is at hand. John's task was to prepare our hearts for the Christmas season and all it means to our faith. John's message was simple.
The Messiah is coming. That was the heart of his message. One is coming after me who was before me. One is coming whose sandals I am not worthy to latch.
Maybe you have experienced that sometime when you had a difficult time in your life. You had gotten to a point where you were about to give up, but suddenly you felt the touch of God. That is part of what Christmas is all about. It's not really about the glitter and expensive gifts. It's about people in all kinds of circumstances experiencing God's presence. John's message, first of all, is a message of hope. The Messiah is coming!
John's second message is preparing the way. In the words of Isaiah, he was the "voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" Now, how do you prepare for the coming of the Messiah? You do so first by repenting. John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Beginning with the seventh verse of this chapter, John spoke very explicitly about ways people are to prepare. The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and one who has food should do the same. Tax collectors were told not to collect any more than they are required to. Soldiers are told not to extort money and not to falsely accuse people. People needed to prepare their hearts and their lives to receive the Messiah through repentance, for his was not a kingdom of the flesh, but of the spirit.
God seeks to break into our dark worlds. One way we can help that happen is through repentance. John's message was, "The Messiah is coming, prepare the way for him through baptism and repentance."
When we've repented and been baptized, we will be ready for God's salvation. John continues, "Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. the crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways made smooth. And everyone will see God's salvation."
Salvation is what Christmas is all about. God enters the manger of Bethlehem in order to save God's people from their sins. When we receive that grace, that peace, that love -- then we are empowered to live new lives.
In Kansas City, there is a tradition simply known as the "Secret Santa." Every Christmas, this "Secret Santa" seeks out people who are down and out, and he quietly slips them an envelop with a crisp, brand new $100 bill slipped inside. The recipients are usually astonished at this unmerited act of generosity.
A few years ago, someone tracked down this "Secret Santa" and asked him, "Why do you do this?" The man replied how life had blessed him with an extremely successful business venture. But this was not always the case. In 1971, he was an out-of-work salesman who was reduced to living out of his car. One morning he had not eaten for two days. He was incredibly hungry, so hungry that he walked into a diner in Houston, Miss., to order breakfast with no intention of paying for it. He couldn't! He had no money, but he was so hungry.
As he hungrily ate his breakfast, he wondered how he was going to pay for this meal, or how he was going to get out of paying for this meal. When the check came, he fumbled around in his pocket pretending to have lost his wallet. The owner of the diner had already sized him up and knew he didn't have the money.
The owner came around the corner, approached the man, and bent down as if to pick up something. The owner said to the man, "Well, looks like you dropped this $20 bill." Now the man had enough to pay for the breakfast and a little more to keep for the road. He never forgot his totally undeserved act of generosity and goodness. He now gives to others as someone once gave to him.
This Advent season we need to reflect on the entire Christ event. Christ came into this world to save us from the power of sin. The Messiah is coming. Repent and be baptized. Then, you will surely see God's salvation.
Rev. Dr. David Van Horn
president, Marshall Ministerial Alliance