Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

This week, our Advent texts turn to that unusual and memorable character of John the Baptist. Many of us who have grown up in the church have a certain image of this man—a massive beard, a camel skin tunic, eating locusts and wild honey—as well as his prophetic words, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Some, like me, have his catch phrase indelibly set to music in our minds, with tunes both from Handel’s Messiah and Stephen Schwartz’ Godspell.

Typically, when we think of John’s words and his role as a prophetic forerunner to Jesus, we tend to put the emphasis on the beginning of his announcement: “Prepare ye.” Advent is, after all, a time of preparation, of keeping alert, of making ready. Or maybe we put emphasis at the end of his words, “of the Lord,” reminding ourselves of the reason for the season, keeping Christ in Christmas, and all that.

But what about the middle. What if we paid more attention to “the way?”

The earliest followers of Jesus, the first expression of the church, referred to itself simply as “the Way.” Their emphasis was on a certain manner of following, a certain style of living together, a shared journey. The original way of talking about the community of believers who chose to follow Jesus made use of a good deal of movement language. 

As I read the gospel lesson for this Sunday, and John’s familiar call to “prepare the way of the Lord,” I found resonances with another book I started reading, We Make the Road by Walking by Brian McLaren. In the introduction, the author points out how recapturing movement language in our faith can help us rediscover a freshness in our faith as we walk together into the future.

He writes:
"Faith was never intended to be a destination, a status, a holding tank, or a warehouse. Instead, it was to be a road, a path, a way out of old and destructive patterns into new and creative ones. As a road or way, it is always being extended into the future. If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been, or if it only digs in its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a parking lot, not a way. To be a living tradition, a living way, it must forever open itself forward and forever remain unfinished—even as it forever cherishes and learns from the growing treasury of its past.”*

As we continue to prepare for the Christ’s coming, and for the new and renewed revelation that God is with us here and now, may we also take careful note of the way, the road, the path we are on. May we continue to open ourselves to the unfinished future that God has in store for us.

Pastor Peter

*Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation, New York: Jericho Books, 2014, p. xii.

Originally published on Nov. 26, 2014 in Christ the King's weekly e-newsletter. Subscribe.