Today, we read the advent story of John the Baptizer crying “Prepare”.
I want to start with a couple of thoughts about John. Some of you may have heard me say this before but I think it is worth repeating.
John is often depicted as a strange wild hermit living in the Wilderness. We have all seen the pictures, ragged clothes and long unkempt hair. These are images of the art world. Today, I wanted to put forward an alternative suggestion.
John was not living wildly in the Wilderness but had been sent to the Essenes at Qumram for training. This religious group was smaller than the Pharisees and the Sadduces. They were an ascetic monastic group who had a monastery at Qumram which was destroyed in 68AD by the Romans. It was on this site in 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It is a possibility that it was in this setting of prayer and learning that “the word of God came to John.”
This view does change how we view John. However, I do want to add that scholars are divided about this so I am just presenting it for perusal.
The second comment I want to make about John is about relationship. When Mary was pregnant she immediately turned to Elizabeth. Therefore, I think we need to remember that John and Jesus probably had a significant relationship. They were cousins. They probably grew up knowing each other. Maybe they even played together! I’m sure they would have known the circumstances of their births, the prophecies given and the connection between them.
With these two thoughts in mind a very different picture emerges. An educated, cultured John, wearing the simple robes of an Essene proclaiming that the time for his cousin to be revealed was at hand and the people need to prepare.
I do want to consider preparation. It is a very common word in our culture. We use it all the time. Last week Andy talked about how we are in a state of constant change. This fits in with the need to prepare. Not only are we constantly changing we are constantly preparing. We want to be ready, then, as soon as we are, it is time to start preparing for the next thing.
We prepare daily as we go about our lives: cutting vegetables for dinner, setting the table, washing clothes to wear later in the week, etc. Some preparations are larger, more significant, more life-changing than others. If I think back over my life these big changes would include leaving home to go to college, getting married, each new child born, moving house, moving to a new culture, children leaving, etc, etc. I’m sure each of you could make your own list. I can still remember the excitement of preparing for these special occasions in my life.
However, I think John is talking about something deeper here than the next stage in our lives (although those are deep and significant). He is talking about something that will not only touch individual lives but will shape a culture. It is an amazing declaration that “all flesh will see the salvation of God.” (History proves that the culture was indeed changed.)
Yet we can still take the word “Prepare” and consider it for ourselves this advent. What does it mean to us? Andy asked me yesterday, “What else have we got to do before Christmas?” Of course, we were talking about doing the practical things and these too do need preparation.
Yet we can, and should, also apply that question to our spiritual lives. “What else have we got to do before Christmas?” We may not be going to do or say anything as profound or life changing as John did. Yet we can prepare. We can examine what Christmas means to us. We can seek the meaning of Christmas in our lives and homes.
Ironically, for many people, this is a really busy time of year. Sometimes I fear we lose the season in the business. So this week I want us all to heed the prophet’s words and take a little time to prepare. Prepare the way of our God.