The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 3rd chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out 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 made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' “
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who comes to save us. Yyyhy
At a precise yyu moment in time....at a precise moment in history....
When Donald Trump and Mike Pence were president and vice president of the United States; and Jay Inslee was governor of Washington State; and Dan Newhouse served the 4th congressional district; when Kathy Coffey was mayor of Yakima; when Elizabeth Eaton was bishop of the ELCA; and Kristen Kuempel was Bishop of Eastern Washington Idaho - the word of God comes to the people of Central Lutheran Church in Yakima, Washington.
Luke, our gospel writer for this year, set out to write an orderly account. He cared about the details. He listed five political rulers and two priests who were in charge when the Word of God came to John the Baptist.
Luke was a historian. Telling exactly when things happened is important to a historian. Placing John the Baptist and Jesus precisely in human history is one of the gifts we receive from Luke.
The political leaders and religious leaders were very important people in their time. Luke names everyone who was anyone from the Emperor on down. His first readers knew something about each of the seven people he listed.
Most of us have only heard of a few of them because of the parts they played at the end of Jesus’ life. We would never have heard of any of them except for their relationship to Jesus.
We do know John the Baptist, though. We know John because the first good news in this gospel lesson is that the Word of God came to John.
John was the son of an assistant priest and his elderly wife. He was the child of a couple who were thought to be barren. He was nobody special compared to the emperor and governor and the rest.
Yet Luke makes the claim that John the Baptist is even more important than all these figures. John is important because the Word of God came to him. John is important because he proclaims the coming of Christ.
The Word of God that came to John was this: We are to prepare the way for the One who is to come.
The One who is coming is bringing our salvation. This is the second piece of good news in this lesson today. The One who is coming is worth preparing for.
We are going to our son’s house right after Christmas. We are very excited to visit them in Minnesota. This is the first time they are preparing to host the family for the holiday. This is important to them so they have already begun preparing for it.
They are important enough that they will clean and decorate the house. They will do the laundry so the guest towels are fresh. They will prepare the traditional holiday foods. They are planning fun activities we can all do together. They are buying gifts for everyone.
The Christmas time together is special because family members are the most important people in our lives. We prepare carefully for for the visit.
When someone special is arriving, we must prepare. John the Baptist tells us to prepare for the coming of the One who brings our salvation. John tells us the One who is coming is worth preparing for.
John tells us to prepare for the Lord by repenting for the forgiveness of our sins. Repentance means turning your life around. Repentance means setting off in a new direction, the right direction this time.
When John was born, his father Zechariah was finally able to use his voice for the first time since he doubted the angel’s prophecy that he would have a son. After naming his son, Zechariah sings a song of praise to God. That song, from the first chapter of Luke is our psalm today.
Zechariah helps us understand what forgiveness and repentance look like. Although it seems backwards from what we expect, forgiveness comes before repentance.
That’s right, forgiveness comes first. God saves us and forgives our sins. We cannot earn God’s forgiveness by saying we are sorry. It isn’t like kindergarten where you are supposed to forgive the kid who took your toy because the teacher made her say she was sorry.
God is gracious by nature. God forgives. There is nothing God wants more than to be in relationship with us.
Christian writer, Anne Lamott, says that grace always bats last. This is true, but I would like to add that grace always bats first, too. Right now, we are in the middle of the game. We are at the time when we are still preparing the way, still trying to find the way of peace.
Repentance follows forgiveness. Repentance is part of the longing we have to turn our lives around and live as the people God wants us to be. Repentance is hard work. God is good, but we are sinners and we keep forgetting and getting lost and going the wrong way.
Repentance is the preparation we do to welcome Christ. It isn’t just a kindergarten version of “Sooooorrrry.” It isn’t a moping around, beating yourself up for what you did, feeling guilty all the time thing either.
Repentance is turning your back on the past and going in the right direction. It is not just that we make a pathway for God - we need to be sure the road is pointing the right way.
The last thing we want to do is pave the road to the wrong place with our good intentions. Zechariah tells us we will know when we are on the right road because it is the road that leads to peace.
You will know that you are paving the right road when the crooked things in your life look like they are starting to get straightened out. I don’t know what those crooked things might be, but you do. You know what you did, or or what you didn’t do that you should have done. God has already forgiven you.
You will know you are paving the right road when the rough places in your life are becoming smoother. You know where the rough places are, too.
Preparing a pathway for God is long, hard work. It is worth it though. Because the One who is coming is bringing our salvation.
This mighty Savior brings you forgiveness. He brings you mercy. He brings you freedom. He brings you compassion. He brings God’s love down to earth. And he does all this before you were even born. There was nothing you had to do to earn it. There is nothing you could have done. There is nothing you can do now. It’s all grace.
As Paul said, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
At a precise moment in time...at a precise moment in history...
The Word of God comes to the people of Central Lutheran Church - and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.