Songs of the Season: John’s Song *

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This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

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Lessons and Carols Sunday
Luke 3:1-6

Once upon a time-before there were Advent wreathes, Christmas trees, homes and malls decked out with boughs of, holly, lights and decorations…Once upon a time before there was were gifts to be bought or wrapped… or before Christmas songs were played in the stores… or before there was Rudolph or the Grinch or even Santa… there was John.

John the Baptist, son of an old priestly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who served God faithfully all the years of their life in the temple… John, child of the religious establishment, child of the church– now all grown up and living in the wilderness… fleeing the comforts and corruptions fo the city for the loneliness of the desert, dressed in animal skins, living on a vegetarian diet of insects and honey. John, living (not in a vacuum but) in a time of political tension-with Emperor Tiberius in full political and military control of the world’s superpower- Emperor Tiberius who appointed Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip and Trachonius to keep the peace by military might, if necessary- in the Jewish part of the kingdom.

What are you going to do with Jewish insurgents after all? It is hard to occupy a foreign land. You have to show force. Of course, it helps if you co-op the Jewish high priests like Annas and Caiaphas-to do some of the dirty work. It helps to keep the religious impulses tamed. To keep the people in line. To keep the peace.

There, in that time and that place, the word of God came to John of all people.

When we come upon John in Luke’s gospel today, we find him roaming around the region of Jordan… preaching to anyone who would listen… singing an old song… an, old, old song… written by the composer Isaiah… almost 600 years earlier… from a book of comfort written to people who had long thought God had forgotten them after living years in exile… after singing songs of lament for years… songs like, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign Land,” “Save me O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire…” and “Why don’t you tear apart the heavens and come down”… Some of the oldest songs in the world.

John is now singing in the wilderness another old song for a new day: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight; 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; and all flesh (all flesh) shall see the salvation of God.”

He sings an old song to prepare for a new act from God… in another time and another place where God seemed to be AWOL. A time and a place where God seemed to have left his chosen children to the hands of people like Tiberius and others… to the fate of historical and economic circumstances…

Into this time and this place God has a word for them from an old song…The Lord is coming… so prepare yourselves… God is coming … to seek us out and to save… to bring to earth a different kind of kingdom than the one they knew. This kingdom that the Lord will bring is what life would be like on earth, here and now, if God were king and the rulers of this world were not.

John’s sings… because he knows someone is coming who will bring heaven to earth… At the time, he did not know the name of the one who was coming, for instance, or what he looked like, but he knew that the old world was about to end and a new world was spinning toward him, carried in the arms of God’s chosen one. 1.

John’s song is meant to wake us up… (if we’ve been lulled to sleep by our circumstances)… John’s song is meant to say… people, wake up… get ready… prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a path in the highway… the highway of your hearts for the coming of God… (remove any obstacles that get in your way) for (the Lord to make his way from) heaven to come to earth…

Today, in our service of Lessons and Carols, we read our lessons and sing our songs as one way to prepare a path for the way of the Lord…Old songs, old stories reminding us of the Lord coming among us-even now… even today… seeking to bring peace, hope, love and joy to his people… and to the world.

Amid all the preparations you make this season for Christmas- getting the house ready… buying gifts… preparing for the coming of Santa Claus… or family… let us also prepare for the coming of the one God sent… it may just be the greatest gift you’ve ever received.

Prepare yourself and you may just get a glimpse of heaven on earth. Amen.

1.  Insights and Language about John adapted from Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon, Wherever the Way May Lead, p 10ff