Exploring the Scripture
John the Baptist’s role in today’s scripture passage and the other three Gospels is the ministry of preparation: “Get ready for the coming Messiah—God’s chosen, anointed king!” John is the forerunner, the announcer for the coming big event. John is genuine. John is good at getting people’s attention with his message of repentance. People are responding and being baptized. In baptism, people sum up the Exodus story of Israel leaving Egyptian slavery and crossing the River Jordan into the Promised Land. Baptism was something Gentiles did when coming into the Jewish faith. John, in using baptism, is getting Jews to begin again, to be truly converted.
The coming Messiah means good, but disruptive, times are ahead. God’s king, the Messiah, will shake up empires like Rome and unjust kingdoms like King Herod’s. He’ll restore Jerusalem and Israel to justice and peace, a light to the world. John is so effective at revival that Jewish leaders from Jerusalem are stirred up. They worriedly need to come and find out what is going on. “Who are you?” they eagerly, insistently ask.
John answers in John 1:23, quoting Isaiah 40:3: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
In the ancient world, when the king or emperor was coming, workers would improve the road, which often was just a dirt track. Can we improve our Advent “road”? How do we remove obstacles in our lives that hinder the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, into our hearts in a deeper, more intense way? Are the obstacles misplaced priorities, addictions, things that are not right in our lives? The commercialized Christmas, shopping for Christmas, can get in the way of what is important in the Christmas story.
The traditional Christmas story, as told in the other gospels, is about unjust government, a poor family that has to deliver a baby in a stable. God’s Messiah is born not in a palace, but a feeding trough in a barn.
When King Herod starts killing all the baby boys in the Bethlehem area, family members must flee for their lives to Egypt as refugees, destitute foreigners, immigrants.
John the Baptist, in today’s passage, is a voice in the wilderness of modern distractions, calling our attention to the true meaning of Christmas. The Messiah of justice and peace, turning the world upside down, is coming! There can be no Messianic peace without Messianic righteousness in our lives—including justice for the poor.
All four Gospels quote Isaiah 40:3 to explain John’s role as a preparer for the coming Messiah. Read the whole passage in Isaiah 40:1–5. John is clear. He is not the coming Messiah. He is not even worthy to undo the strap of the Messiah’s sandal—the task of a slave.
Only the Messiah is to be seen in John’s witness. John is just the forerunner. And John whispers, “The Messiah is already here, among you, but you do not recognize him yet. So look! Be alert!” Perhaps the beggar on the street, the hungry child, or faces in the Outreach International catalog are Jesus for us this Christmas.
Advent is preparation for incarnation; the Word is becoming human. John the Baptist calls us to get ready, “Make straight the way of the Lord!”
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- Like John, we are not the light but testify to the light.
- The Messiah is coming. Make straight the way of the Lord. Get your heart ready!
- We are to be like John the Baptist in our families and among friends and coworkers to help people prepare for the real meaning of Christmas.
Questions to Consider
- The question this season is not “Are you ready for Christmas?” but “Are you ready for the Messiah?”
- How do we clear the way for Jesus, the Messiah, to come more deeply into our lives this Christmas? What is getting in the way of a deeper life as a disciple?
- How can I be a genuine witness of Jesus Christ this Christmas? What can I do to embrace the peace and justice message of the season?
- How can your congregation testify of the light in your neighborhood?