Sunday, December 9, 2012

Luke 3:1-6

“The Advance Man”
MasterPiece Church
09 December 2012

Our daughter Betsy is getting married in California on May 18th. I’ve been involved in lots and lots of wedding over the years -- a vocational privilege. But now I’m seeing a whole different side of the process. Father of the bride. So many decisions... that I let everyone else make.

  • Venue 
  • Dresses Photographer Cake Flowers Invitations 
  • This week it was negotiations with the caterer. 
It’s not going to be a big wedding but it is going to be a big deal -- as it should be. And I’m pretty impressed with how well Betsy and her fiance Helio are working through the logistics. I’m confident that they’ll be well prepared.

Over the years I’ve been involved in many weddings where the preparation was poorly done and I could tell story after story of poor planning. But that’s not as much fun as talking about when things went well.

I officiated at Tom and Karen Gibb’s wedding in Prescott on October 6th. That was a fun wedding -- very well planned... yet no one was stressing over the details. That’s why it was fun.

When something big is going to happen it pays to be prepared.

And that was the message of John the Forerunner, too -- except he’s not talking about weddings.
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
6 All humanity will see God’s salvation.”
In the ancient world potentates didn't have the luxury of spontaneity. The governor couldn’t jump on a military plane and fly to Afghanistan to greet the troops -- which is what our governor did this past week -- a trip veiled in secrecy -- understandably so. Kudos to her for getting out there to visit the troops.

Whenever an important official was making a visit some place -- a forerunner -- a courier went ahead to alert the people and give them time to get their communities in order. There were no secret visits.

It's like the coming of the Olympics. The opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will be in 425 days. You can imagine the buzz.

  • New roads. 
  • New ice rinks. 
  • New parking lots.
  • New transit.
  • And a new language. 
The Committee is trying to teach the nearly half million people who live in and around Sochi to speak enough English that they can better host the world.
So they are using TV screens in stores, hospitals, and public buildings. Radio announcers are required to use the 662 English words and phrases in the curriculum on an ongoing basis.

People who use public transit will get a daily dose of English twice an hour, every hour, every day until February 2014.

Can you imagine if it was decided that everyone in Phoenix needed a rudimentary understanding of Russian?

The Russians aren’t the only one’s trying to pull off a cultural transformation in preparation for the Olympics. The Winter Olympics in 2018 are going to be in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Now, Koreans are typically shy around strangers -- it’s a stereotype but somewhat true -- and so they have launched a public awareness campaign to help Koreans get used to the idea that they don’t have to be shy around foreign strangers. Watch this.


It takes years to prepare.

Well, generally speaking, kings didn't give their people years to prepare for a royal visit. But they were given enough time to smooth some paths and patch the roads.

John, using the words of the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 40, presents himself as such a forerunner -- a courier -- an advance man. Except when John is saying PATCH THE ROADS -- fix the paths -- it’s a metaphor for -- PATCHING YOUR LIVES!

How often in the Bible is the road, path, way, journey a metaphor or word picture for life? We had a good example in our study of Psalm 119.

Remember this? “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” ~ Psalm 119:105 (NLT)

And the thing about John the one man advance team is that he’s not just announcing the arrival of some ordinary autocrat potentate.

This isn't just an important king coming but the king of kings and he's not on some symbolic state visit to garner political points.

He’s on a mission -- a real mission. He's coming to REVEAL THE SALVATION sent from GOD.

(Sing) “...And all people will see the salvation of our God.”

Again vs. 6-- “All humanity will see God’s salvation.”

That God would go to such lengths to prepare people... sending prophets... and then the prophet of particular focus in Luke 3... a forerunner... John... who calls us to patch our lives so we are prepared to "see the salvation sent from God."

And actually, it's very interesting that Luke quotes Isaiah 40 almost verbatim until he comes to this point recorded in Luke 3:6.

Isaiah 40:5 actually says -- “The Lord’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together...”

Every now and then I meet someone who rails on paraphrase versions of the Bible -- complaining that they can’t really be God’s Word. I point them to passages like this. There is a lot of paraphrasing of Old Testament passages in the New Testament.

Well, Luke freely paraphrases the prophet Isaiah -- equating the glory of the Lord with the salvation sent from God. – “All humanity will see God’s salvation.” says Luke’s paraphrase.

The revealing of God's glorious person and his salvation are intertwined. They are the same thing. To see the salvation of God is to see his glory.

And John the Baptist and Luke are saying, "Ladies and gentlemen. Put your hands together to welcome to our human stage -- the glorious salvation of God. Live, here and in person -- Jesus the Christ."

“All humanity will see God’s salvation.”

Now, for us it’s kind of old news – perhaps even old hat. We’ve heard all this stuff before -- over and over again. After all Christmas comes every year.

There are big community events surrounding its arrival – parades and tree lightings. Did I mention my upcoming debut role as Santa at the Second Friday Artwalk, this Friday -- right outside the door here?

The music of Christmas is piped in everywhere... There are radio stations that just play popular holiday music can numb us to it’s significance.

And if I were inclined toward conspiracy theories I’d say that’s what the government and Stuff-Mart wants to happen – because if we weren’t so mesmerized by the whole retail experience of Christmas that they’ve created – well – we certainly wouldn’t buy as much stuff. And sales are good for the tax base and the employment figures. So that’s good.

But the whole Christmas thing for many of us is a matter of overexposure -- we might say over exposure of the lite side of it -- inoculating us from the depths of the story.

But really, this isn’t all that new.

Consider the Jewish people of the first century -- they were used to hearing about the salvation from God. That was the story of their collective life... * Joseph rescuing his brothers from poverty... * the Exodus... the victories of King David... Judas Maccabees and the victory commemorated in Chanukah.

The Jewish people had heard over and over again about the salvation of the Lord and that at some point that salvation would be more fully realized in a Messiah – a man from God – a Savior with a big S.

But Luke... And remember, Luke was writing to uninitiated Gentiles -- people less familiar with the Jewish story and mostly familiar with the Roman pantheon and the mystery religions.

In those systems the gods didn't reveal themselves. They didn't come to present themselves... And they certainly didn't bring salvation!

Deities extracted homage in exchange for favors and for those ancients “salvation” was essentially the individual's responsibility -- whether proving your worthiness or figuring out how to get in good with some deity who'd help you out.

But, Luke presents John the Forerunner’s proclamation as a radical departure from this common Gentile view –– and even from the common Jewish view where salvation was assumed to be an in-house Hebrew experience.

In John the Baptist – John the forerunner -- we see a throwing open of the windows and doors for everyone “All humanity will see God’s salvation.”

Prepare yourselves because an event of worldwide significance is breaking... * No, not the end of the Mayan calendar. * No, not the fiscal cliff.

But God is making a gift like no other gift. All those others times that God saved his people -- hey that was great but -- It’s nothing compared with what is about to happen!

This is so big that the wedding and the Olympics -- whether we’re all ready or not -- are barely a blip on the screen of history.

This is so big that the world is going to completely change – think global impact.

Someone with a Bible please read Luke 3:3 for us.
Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. (NLT)
It’s so big that we need to change our routines and priorities to accommodate it. We need to straighten the roads – fill in the valleys and levels the hills.

To borrow the Boy Scout motto – which they borrowed from John the Forerunner... Be prepared.

Well, what exactly does it mean to be prepared for the coming of the Lord? A couple of quick thoughts–

1. Real preparation involves making real change. The message of the forerunner was make changes-- not just changes for the sake of change.

You know, some people like to move their furniture around every 3 months or so -- not because it needs to be moved but because they like to see things changed. It makes them feel good.

Now, some people are happy with constantly rearranging the furniture in their lives – * new jobs – * new wives – new toys – new challenges -- and they think that because they’ve moved their stuff around it must mean that God is at work.

But that's not the kind of change we're talking about. Rather, we're talking about changing so that our lives are ordered to God's specs -- or perhaps we should say -- so that we're open to having God change us to his specifications.

Some of us aren't really open to having the Lord change us -- in spite of our familiarity with him...and his ways... We've become so familiar and so comfortable with the way things are that we can't find it within ourselves to get up and get going. As we said last week – we’re lazy or slothful.

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once told a somewhat twisted parable about geese.
There were geese in a certain farmyard who decided to gather together every 7th day.

At that time one of the ganders would mount the fence and preach to his fellow geese about their lofty destiny.

The pulpity goose would recall the exploits of their forefathers and praise God for the gift of flight bestowed upon them. The congregation of fowl would flap their wings in hearty agreement.

This routine happened every week. After each assembly the geese would break up and waddle to their respective places in the farmyard and eat the grain the kind farmer had scattered on the ground for them.

On Monday morning, the geese would chat about Sunday's sermon and discuss what might happen if they took to the skies once again.

However, there was little doubt among them that the best thing was to linger in the security of the farmyard. The sermons would stir them and that was sufficient. It was good to hear what they could be and do as long as they need not do it or be it.

All the while, until the holidays came, they didn't realize that the kind farmer was fattening the geese for a reason.
How open to change are you? Real change...

2. Real preparation involves seeing God’s bigger picture.

John the Forerunner’s message wasn't just just about welcoming change into YOUR life. It was about preparing the way so that the entire world might see. "Prepare the way of the Lord” and “All humanity will see God’s salvation.”

We prepare ourselves as the first step in making the salvation of God known to ALL PEOPLE.

Luke is writing his gospel to get the story of Jesus out to the people beyond the walls of the existing religious establishment.

The baby born in Bethlehem – the salvation of God – he wasn’t sent just for you. It’s not just about Jesus and me. It’s not even just about Jesus and us in our nice comfortable Christian subculture – where everyone knows the story... where everyone speaks the lingo and more or less gets it. It’s about Jesus and the world.

You see, Advent isn't just a time of personal reflection, repentance, and preparation in anticipation of the Lord's coming – but it's a time when we want to help others be ready as well.

Please put your own oxygen mask on first and then you will be able to assist those around you.

This whole holiday thing involves a passion and desire that “All humanity will see God’s salvation.”

And there is no more natural time of the year to focus on the needs of the rest of the world.

Ironically, though, the holidays are also one of the times when we become extremely self-absorbed – We’ve all got lots of demands on our time... presents to buy ... social obligations... family expectations... grief over past losses...

Many of us shift into a survival mode during the month of December. We crawl into our caves waiting for the storm to blow over.

But John the advance man is calling us to lift up our heads and to see the bigger picture... to participate in God’s bigger story... to look for ways that we might be preparing the rest of the world for the coming of Christ.

You see, PREPARING OURSELVES FOR THE PRESENCE OF GOD INVOLVES PREPARING OTHERS TO WELCOME JESUS, TOO. (Key point)

We’re kindly, gently, boldly teaching our neighbors -- our society -- a new language -- a new culture -- that of the kingdom of God.

So the challenge this month is to let some people into your life -- people that you don’t REALLY have time for. God will give you the time -- if you take the time. Linger in the grocery store aisle and talk to the acquaintance you run into – take the risk – extend an invitation – look for what the Spirit might be doing in that person’s life.

Help fill in the gaps – that is the valleys. Smooth out the rough roads for them. Prepare the way.
“Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight! Every ditch will be filled in, Every bump smoothed out, The detours straightened out, All the ruts paved over. Everyone will be there to see The parade of God’s salvation.’” (MSG)
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The "CEB" and "Common English Bible" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Common English Bible. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Common English Bible.

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