John the Baptizer
The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Watch closely: I’m sending my preacher ahead of you;
He’ll make the road smooth for you.
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
4-6John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.
7-8As he preached he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”
Today is the second Sunday of Advent, starting the week when we celebrate, pray for and meditate on peace.
So naturally, the scripture for this week includes:
- A Man Crying out in the wilderness
- Clothes made out of camel hair
- Eating bugs
- A call to make the roads straight (Road Construction).
It’s that last one that trips me out. I can’t think of anything less peaceful than road construction. If it’s happening near where you live there is lots of noise and extra traffic. If it’s happening on your commute you suddenly need an extra half hour to get anywhere, your state of mind on your way to work and on your way home is more angry and anxious than peaceful.
My Great-Grandfather and his brother started a road construction company when my grandmother was growing up. It meant that he was often far from home and worked long hours. Road construction work means standing in the wide open on stretches of black tar in the hottest months of Minnesota summers. You stand close to dangerous machines and smelly, sticky, heavy materials.
My sister is a civil engineer. One of her internships was for the highway and road department for the county. Day after day, she and her partner would drive up and down the county roads. Notice potholes and cracks, stop the truck, measure the holes in the road, mark them with orange paint and count them.
But here, the prophet Isaiah, and John the baptist are, calling us to prepare the way for the Lord, make the roads straight. Patch the cracks, brush away the loose gravel, correct the accidental curves and turns that have developed in the road, smooth out the bumps, fill in the potholes, pick up the blown out tires, and the dead raccoons.
Where’s the good news in that?
For the majority of the time that I was living in Minneapolis, there was construction on 35-W south of downtown until the interchange with Highway 62. For years my friends who lived near the highway in South Minneapolis complained of the noise. We grumbled about the almost always changing combinations of bridges that were opened and closed to get from the East to West sides of the highway. We cursed both the Minnesota Department of Transportation and our GPS providers as the exit to go on highway 62 East went from a left exit, to a right exit, back to a left exit and finally a right exit. And mostly we grumbled about how slow traffic was and how difficult it was to get to the southern suburbs.
But one day the construction was done. My facebook wall lit up with praises for the new Highway. “My commute took 15 minutes less today than it ever has over the past 4 years!” “Check out 35-W, it’s so smooth.” “I am sorry that I ever complained about this construction, this is awesome!”
Ok, so clearly, John the baptist isn’t calling us do actual road construction, but he is calling us to repent, to turn back to our loving God, to smooth out those rough patches in our lives. And that process can be as annoying as road construction. But when the rough places are made smooth, and the crooked roads are made straight, then there is peace.