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Luke 3_1-6

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TITLE:  Making Smooth the Pathway      SCRIPTURE:  Luke 3:1-6

Can you imagine God telling you, first of all, that the Messiah is coming and, second of all, that you have the mission of preparing the way for him.  Imagine being Advance Person for Christ!  How would you handle it?

Knowing myself, I am sure that I would be intimidated for a moment.  Why me?  What credentials do I have for such a task?  There must be a million people better qualified as PR experts and ten million who are better qualified spiritually than I am.

But then I would get hold of myself and relax.  After all, if God picked me for the job, God must know what he is doing.  Besides, I know that is how God works: 

–– God picked Abraham, an ordinary hayseed from Ur of the Chaldees. 

–– God picked Moses, who had been discredited both as a Jew and an Egyptian. 

–– God picked Peter, who smelled of fish and who flew off the handle with some regularity. 

–– God picked Saul, who had been murdering Christians.

 They all did all right.  So if God picks me for a job, things will work out. Whatever I don't know, God knows. We'll manage.

Besides, the call would be so dramatic.  How often do you hear a voice from heaven saying:

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 shall see the salvation of God.

If that wouldn't inspire you, you're hopeless.

I could certainly get inspired about being the Advance Person for the Messiah.  First, I would want to get a commitment from the best ad agency in the country.  Hopefully, the people who did the great Volkswagen ads back in the sixties could still be found.  They were great –– creative.  If they could make a Volkswagen look good, what could they do with the Messiah?

And then I would want music. 

–– We could get Bruce Springsteen to put together a rock concert. 

–– The New York Philharmonic could do something symphonic. 

–– The San Francisco Opera could put together something with a marching processional –– something like the Grand March from Aida –– people carrying Jesus on their shoulders.  We could even work it out so they could march off the stage –– into the aisles –– even through the streets, with spotlights hung from helicopters.  What a pageant!

And then there would come the official receptions. 

–– The President could host a dinner party at the White House for a thousand or so of Jesus' closest friends. 

–– We would have to do something at Buckingham Palace.  After all, the Queen is the head of the Church of England. 

–– And then, of course, we would have to have an audience with the Pope.  We really couldn't leave out the Pope.

What fun –– traveling First Class with the Messiah.  I can't think of a better job anywhere.

Of course, there are lots of little details associated with a job like that.  For instance, one of my first questions to God would be, "Can you give me a ballpark idea of what kind of budget we are talking here?"

And God would answer, "There is no budget.  Just do your best with what you have."

"Do my best with what I have!  You must be kidding!  I don't have anything!  Lord, this is important!  The coming of the Messiah will divide all history.  Everything before the Messiah will be known as B.C. and everything after the Messiah will be known as A.D.  This is huge!  I mean, you yourself said, 'and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'  Lord, I can't do that without a budget.  You have to help me."

And God would reply, "I will help you."

"Well, I know that you will help me, and I don't want to seem ungrateful, but none of this comes free, Lord.  We need good people.  We need the best people.  And the best people cost money –– lots of money.  Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills.  How about selling a few of them for a good cause!"

And God would say, "Bob, you don't need a budget.  Some of my best people do their work with no budget at all.  You're going to be one of them."

"But, Lord, without any budget, I might as well just go out into the desert and shout into the wind."

And God would say, "Now you are getting the idea."

Please forgive me for that longish introduction to this sermon, but the idea is simply that God's ways our not our ways.  God's ways often seem pretty strange.

Hasn't it ever seemed strange to you that God picked John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus?  Hasn't it ever seemed strange that John went out to the desert wilderness to preach –– a place where nobody lived? 

Hasn't it ever seemed strange that God would inspire Isaiah to say:

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 shall see the salvation of God.

Isn't it surprising that God would inspire such beautiful words and would then pick a rough-hewn, almost hostile man like John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus?

It seems strange to me!  With all the options at his disposal, why did God pick John the Baptist for such an important job?  I don't know.  But then I don't know why he picked Abraham either –– or Moses –– or Peter –– or Saul.  God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.  In fact, God often seems to delight in working through humble and lowly people to accomplish his good work.

And if you will think about it, you will probably find that true in your life.  Stop and think for a moment. 

–– Who was the person who introduced you to Christ?

–– Who prepared the way for you to know Christ?

–– Who made the path straight for you?

–– Who filled in the valleys and lowered the mountains so that you could see the Lord?

–– Who straightened out the crooked roads for you, and made the rough places smooth?

–– Who did all those things so that you would be able to see "the salvation of the Lord"?

Who did those things for you?  Who introduced you to Jesus?  Who led you along paths that had been lovingly smoothed so that you might know Jesus?  Who did those things for you?

A teacher asked that question in their Sunday school class one Sunday.  The answers were interesting: 

–– People talked about their mother or their father starting them on their lives of faith. 

–– They talked about saints that they had known –– not saints of great renown, but ordinary people of extraordinary faith ––ordinary people of extraordinary compassion and kindness –– the kind of ordinary people that you meet in churches like this every day.

I thought that was significant.  It said to me that the people who are most often responsible for preparing the way of the Lord are people such as you who are sitting in the pews this morning.  Most of you would say, "Aw shucks, not me!  I'm completely ordinary.  I have no talent."  But the fact remains that most of Christ's work is done by you and people just like you. 

Georgia Harkness, a great Christian author, put it this way.  She said:

The most potent evangelism is that which takes place daily, weekly, yearly through the work of the local church.

And when she speaks of "local church," she isn't talking about the building on the corner.  She isn't talking about lumber and stained glass and carpet. She is talking about people –– because the church is the people of God.  The church is:

      –– the people who sit in the pews on Sunday

      –– the people who prepare church dinners

      –– the people who teach Sunday school classes

      –– the people who sponsor youth groups

      –– the people who sing in the choir

      –– the people who prepare the communion

      –– and the people who serve as ushers.

These people –– you people –– are the people of God.  It is these people –– you people:

      –– who prepare the way of the Lord

      –– who make his paths straight

      –– who fill in the valleys

      –– who flatten out the mountains

      –– who make the crooked roads straight

      –– and who make the rough ways smooth

so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

God called John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord in the first century.  He calls us to prepare the way of the Lord in the twenty-first century.  And we do that every week:

      –– as we worship together

      –– as we invite our friends and relatives and co-workers to worship with us

      –– as we eat together and sing together

      –– as we praise God together.

As we do all of these things, we prepare the way of the Lord.

We need not be rich or famous to prepare the way of the Lord.  We need not be well-educated or sophisticated to prepare the way of the Lord.  We need only to be servants of the Lord.  We need only be people who have received Christ into our own lives so that we might be enabled to help others receive him into their lives.

Dawson Trotman put it this way:

Soul winners are not soul winners because of what they know, but because of Whom they know, and how well they know him, and how much they long for others to know him.

During this Advent season, let us receive Christ again into our lives.  Let us make Christ Lord again of our lives.  Let us allow Christ to remake us and remold us and refashion us again so that, once again, he might allow us the privilege of preparing his way into our world.

















Getting from One Place to Another          Object suggested: A road map

Sometimes, as we travel, we are stopped by road construction.  Workers may be repairing the road or building a new road.  It may feel inconvenient at the time and we may become impatient having to wait until we can go on, but providing safe roads is important work.

People who design roads want us to be able to get from one place to another as easily as possible.  In the mountains roads must be designed so they are not too steep.  Curves are removed to make the road as straight as possible and sometimes tunnels must be blasted through rocks to allow us to get from one side of the mountain to the other.  Have you ever gone through a tunnel?  It is a much easier way to get to where you are going than driving around the mountain. All of these things prepare the way for us to get to our destination.

Long ago there was a man named John who came to tell the people about Jesus.  John was preparing the people's hearts to recognize Jesus and know that he was coming to offer them love and forgiveness. It was as if he was building a road that would make it easier for people to get to Jesus.

The Bible says, "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 … shall see the salvation of God."

The lesson for us is that we too can make the way easier for people to recognize and accept God's love.  When we pray, study the Bible, and try to live our lives in a way that honors God, we are preparing our own heart and the hearts of others to get to God's truth.

We are like workers who build roads, straightening out curves, making the climb less steep, and tunneling through obstacles to prepare a way that leads to Jesus and his love.

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