The Baptist calls Israel back to their core beliefs. God will come down and redeem us. We are not enough in ourselves, but the Lord fights for us. And this God is a creator God, and a re-creator. When God comes down and establishes his reign, he is not limited to what he finds. He shall create all things new. And so what we – what Israel – can do is prepare. We can prepare the way of the Lord. We can make his paths straight. What does that mean? It does not mean that we build the Kingdom. Neither does it mean we melt away into the Kingdoms of the World. What it mean is that we believe. We repent of where we have gone wrong. And we bear the fruits of that repentance. Christ has delivered us from sin, and the power of the devil. And he will deliver us from death. We prepare to re-cross that Jordan.
The proclamation of John the Baptist in Luke is catechetical, a big word for it teaches. Being Lutheran one of our stock catechism questions is: What does this mean? Luther asks it all the time and then explains it. The crowds and people who come to John the Baptist ask: “What do we do?” And John answers them. We usually summarize the Baptist under the phrase “prepare the way”. And that is a great phrase, but we need to answer the what. What does preparation look like. Gracefully God has answered through John (and through the apostles).
What does preparation look like? This sermon goes through three things:
1) Come away for a time from normal life to be baptized – come out to the desert
2) Undergo that baptism, renew the Spirit through repentance, renew your allegiance not to the world but to God’s purpose
3) Return to your normal lives, return to the world, but having accepted the challenge to live those lives of repentance…to live as citizens of the Kingdom that is coming, to live as the true Children of Abraham
Within that last one is what is sorely missing in our society, people who truly carry out their vocations or callings. We care not at a loss for labor. We are at a loss for vocations in the Lutheran sense. It is not just priests or monks and nuns who have a sacred calling. Fathers, Mothers, citizens, rulers, employers, employees…the list goes one. We all have multiple vocations. Preparing the way includes living our calling and not just trying to drain them of life.
And all of that, because we fail so miserably, leads us back to the desert…to hear the Word…to be renewed. Not of ourselves, but in repentance and by the Spirit.