Lay out a scarf flat in front of you like a road. Crumple some bits so that they are high or low or go round a bend, like the road that John was describing.
Consider for a few moments – what part of your life are smooth, flat, easy going? What parts are steep and difficult to climb? What parts feel low and dark? What parts suddenly change direction in ways you were not expecting?
Bring them all to God, the chief road-builder, and change any parts as you feel it appropriate.
My journey to college is on the A14. Those who know the road will already be shuddering.
The A14 to Cambridge is often a three-lane car park, and is in the middle of the biggest road improvement scheme in the UK (A dubious honour!) Roadworks for four years.
Enter John the Baptist and his application to the planning office: widening carriageways, flattening hills, back-filling valleys, realigning roads, even resurfacing.
This sounds like a lot of work. Think of the tail-backs and the contra-flow, think of the weekend and overnight closures, think of the diversions! Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep the road the way it is? is it really worth all the upheaval?
Two things to reflect on with this very familiar story.
John the Baptist. The Baptist. Has that ever struck you as weird? Why was John baptising people?
If you were a Gentile (non-Jew) and wanted to become Jewish, you’d be baptised to show you had joined the covenant family. But these people were already Jews. Was this some kind of new covenant?
Perhaps John’s baptism for forgiveness was recalling Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34), where God promises a new covenant. One where the law would not be on tablets of stone, but would be in peoples’ very hearts.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
It’s a wonderful promise from God, but it’s hard to hear that your cherished way of doing things needs an overhaul.
When you look at it like this, you can see why it was such a radical thing to do. Baptism was not a respectable Sunday afternoon church service with all the rellies and a cutesy baby in a white dress. John’s baptism was a radical, extremist, axe-to-the-root-of-the-tree kind of thing to do. Out with the old! In with the new!
Like building a new motorway-standard A14 to relieve the congested-to-the-point-of-fury old road. New covenant, new road, new ways. Perhaps this Advent might be a good time for a land survey. Are there are bends that need straightening? Any rough places that need making smooth?
And second. This is important.
Your job is not the whole job. Your job is your bit.
You don’t have to straighten all the bends yourself. You don’t have to level off the mountains and fill up the valleys on your own.
The A14 construction project has over 2000 people working on it at any time. Each person has a part of the job to do. All are needed, but no worker has the entire job on their shoulders.
Preparing the way of the Lord is a big job. I’m part of the team and I’m needed. I have my job to to, my part of the whole. But my job is not the whole job. My job is my bit.
It can be tempting at this time of year to want to make everything perfect – especially if you have children. It’s great to enjoy the lights and the sparkles and the festive fun but …
… it doesn’t have to be perfect. Really it doesn’t. It’s OK if you buy your Mary Berry partridge and rhubarb truffles instead of making them. It’s OK to use frozen sprouts. (And even more OK to not have them at all.)
… You don’t have to be perfect. Really you don’t. It’s OK if you still have some rough places that God is still in the process of making smooth (join the club). It’s OK if the festive cheer makes you want to run away and hide, or if you are so frazzled with carol concerts and mince pies that you barely have a minute to to stop and think why. Breathe.
Your job is not the whole job, whether that is Christmas dinner or making sure everyone is happy or trying to cram in something spiritual amongst all the tinsel. Relax. Do the bit that is yours to do and leave the rest to God.
After all, the A14 wasn’t built in a day!
Luke 3:1-6 Living Bible
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Caesar, a message came from God to John (the son of Zacharias), as he was living out in the deserts. (Pilate was governor over Judea at that time; Herod, over Galilee; his brother Philip, over Iturea and Trachonitis; Lysanias, over Abilene; and Annas and Caiaphas were high priests.) 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 turned to God and away from their sins, in order to be forgiven.
In the words of Isaiah the prophet, John was “a voice shouting from the barren wilderness, ‘Prepare a road for the Lord to travel on! Widen the pathway before him! Level the mountains! Fill up the valleys! Straighten the curves! Smooth out the ruts! And then all mankind shall see the Savior sent from God.’ ”
The Living Bible copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.