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He Will Surely Appear

Luke 3:1-6

The Rev. Jon Roberts

5 December

2021

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tibe′ri-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae′a and Trachoni′tis, and Lysa′ni-as tetrarch of Abile′ne, 2 in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca′iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari′ah in the wilderness; 3 and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

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Saint John Preaching in the Wilderness, Luca Giordano 1634-1705

Prepare the way, O Zion, your Christ is coming near, for every heart and every mind we seek for Jesus to appear! [1]

A man who thought he was John the Baptist was disturbing the neighborhood, so for public safety, he was committed. He was put in a room with another crazy and immediately began his routine, "I am John the Baptist! Jesus Christ has sent me!" The other guy looks at him and declares, "I did not!"

Are we crazy? Are we really preparing for Jesus, the Son of God to enter the world? We must be a little nutty. Think about what we are asking the world to do. To put aside all the things we think is important and to make room for God to live in us. Now that’s pretty bold; pretty ambitious.

For the many years before the Christ, during the Christ and after the Christ, people have wondered if God would appear. The ancient message of repentance, to prepare one’s heart for God’s entry has always been proclaimed. This is the realm of prophecy. We hear the words of Baruch, the assistant to the prophet Jeremiah, who announces we are to look to the east, for that is where God will come.[2] We hear the words of Zechariah, the priest who said, “He will come to set his people free.”[3] We hear the words of John the Baptist, the last prophet in the Bible, who says, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He says the valleys are going to be filled in and the mountains brought down, low.[4] That is ‘crazy talk.’ The questions continue after the resurrection, the ascension and the moment of Pentecost by those disciples and it carries on with the continuing church. We hear the words of Paul, the apostle who says, “In the day of Christ you will be made pure and blameless.”[5] However, we must prepare the way. Without saying, Advent lives into this as a time of preparation.

Are you prepared? A lot of us are anxious right now. You can hear those voices saying, “Oh boy, we have not bought those gifts yet.” “We have not sent out our Christmas cards and I’m not sure they are going to go out this year.” The anxiety is building. Why are you buying gifts? Why are you sending cards? It’s because you are preparing the way for a special occasion. You are preparing for something to enter. We are preparing while in the clutter. This is why we come to church, to put our priorities in the right order. We know that if we do not let Jesus into our lives, everything else falls apart and gets disorganized. Jesus has given us the best gift to share with all those around.

I think about John the Baptist. Right before he was conceived, his father, a priest named Zechariah and his mother, Elizabeth, the cousin to Mary, asked for God to bless them with having a child. In those days you were blessed if you had a boy. Zechariah and Elizabeth were older and anxious. They began to believe they would never have children and were giving up hope. But once they believed it would never happen, it happened. At conception, Zechariah could finally stand up in the middle of his congregation and belt out a loud “Alleluia” except for one thing. He lost his voice. I cannot imagine a priest that cannot talk! How long? Nine months and eight days to be exact. John, while in the womb, “leaped” when pregnant Mary with Jesus, came to visit her cousin Elizabeth. There they were, prophet and messiah together. After the birth, the custom was to circumcise and name your child. They did not have a name yet because Zechariah still couldn’t speak. It was also the custom to name the first son after the father. He should have been called Zechariah, Jr. but Elizabeth insisted he would be called John. Everyone is looking at Zechariah to say something, but he did not. Instead…he sang! It was called a canticle, when scripture, the words of Zechariah is turned into a song. He was moved by the blessing and did not care about the actual naming. This went down to his very core, down to his bones.

Speaking of bones, the fate of John the Baptist is well known. He was beheaded by the order given by Herod. His remains were taken and sent far away to an island in the Black Sea, near Bulgaria. It’s a small island and you could probably walk around it in thirty minutes. The island is called St. John’s Island and there are two archeological digs, where two churches are found. These were dug up and there they found an altar, and inside the altar a sarcophagus and inside the sarcophagus, a reliquary. This is a fancy word for a ‘bone box’ and in the bones of the legend, there was a power emitted from them. This is what people believed but was it the actual bones or was it something they felt when near. When we prepare our Zion, a place where God’s Spirit is invited to live, it is a special place for the acceptance of cured from our anxiety.
The bones of Christ, we do not have because he ascended into heaven but down deep in our bones we are preparing a place for him to live in us. What are we being prepared for? The world has plenty of conflicts and wars, and rumors of wars, the things that keep us under bondage that do not belong. When we come to church we pray, “Dear God release us from our bondage and help us to make a sanctuary for you to dwell." So many have prophesied God’s coming from the Old to the New Testament through the proclamation, that succession of God’s message living in us, called the Church.

Dearly beloved “Prepare the way, O Zion, your Christ is coming near, for every heart and every mind we seek for Jesus will certainly appear!

[1] Frans Mikael Franzen, “Prepare the way, O Zion,” 1982 Hymnal #65, adaptation by The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Baruch 5:1-9
[3] Canticle 16 “Song of Zechariah”
[4] Luke 3:1-6
[5] Philippians 1:3-11

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