Readings: Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11, and Luke 3:1-6
Peace be with you!
Radical demonstrations and controversial statements make individuals squirm in their seats as others challenge how they are treated for being different. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton made people squirm during the women’s suffrage movement when they fought for women’s right to vote and to have legal protection against abusive husbands.[i] Martin Luther King made people squirm when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the mall of the nation’s capital and organized marches during the civil rights movement. People squirmed as they watched individuals abandon their wheelchairs and mobility devices to crawl up the eighty-three steps to the US Capitol Building while chanting: “What do we want? ADA! When do we want it? NOW!”[ii] Each civil rights movement challenges society’s fundamentals.
These individuals were the forerunners of their various civil right movements, challenging the social norms and changing our fundamental values. The leaders created community among the people and prepared the groundwork for their movements, spending endless hours getting petitions signed and lobbying Congress. More than that, the civil right movements required individuals to examine how they treated others, what they believed in, and why society needed to make a change. Civil right movements drum up questions: What is fair? How can we treat the other as an equal? What needs to change and how? How does change benefit the whole? Why is it important? These movements create unrest and cause people to squirm because they challenge a society’s beliefs, fundamentals, and way of life—earth-shattering changes.
When God the Father commissions you with a calling, you go. God commissions Malachi to speak his word to the Israelites when they were returning to the Promised Land after being in exile. The generation who grew up in exile experienced a time of rebuilding and being disappointed with hope. The Israelites have built a new temple but continue to experience poverty and oppression.[iii] Malachi is sent to tell the Israelites that the Lord and his divine judgment are near and to prepare a way for him (Malachi 3:1). God is not happy with the Israelites, who are unfaithful, prideful, and skeptical. The Israelites have their own agendas, opposing what God calls them to be. Malachi tells the Israelites that they will experience havoc on earth and the only way to survive the disaster is to put their faith in the messenger the Lord will send. When the Israelites ask the prophet, then how can we stand before the Lord when he comes (Malachi 3:2a)? The prophet reassures the Israelites that the Lord will purify and refine them like gold and silver until they pleasing to him (Malachi 3:3-4). The messenger will make all the people perfect in the eyes of the Lord by burning away their imperfections. It is a message of judgment and a call for the Israelites to strive to be righteous. Now is the time to prepare for the promised Messiah.
With this backdrop, John the Baptist enters the scene with a similar call for the people along the Jordan River. John the Baptist is an activist at a time when Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea and Herod is the ruler of Galilee (Luke 3:1). These rulers feel threatened by Jesus—King Herod tries to have Jesus killed as a baby (Matthew 2:13) and Pontius Pilate will later have Jesus crucified.
In this dangerous arena, God commissions John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus Christ by calling people to repent and seek salvation. John has to orient the way people think by challenging the fundamentals of this world in order to direct them to the saving grace of the Lord. Luke quotes Isaiah 40:3-5 to recall the prophecy of the Messiah.
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 (Luke 3:4b-6).
Like our contemporary activists, John the Baptist and Paul explain how with this good news comes the responsibility to continue the work of Jesus Christ—to shake our own fundamentals. John the Baptist is responsible for preparing us for Jesus’s ministry, which will continue to challenge our fundamentals, even after his death. Our fundamentals have to be shaken in order to help us understand the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of salvation. Jesus will challenge everything we think we understand by throwing it out the window and giving us the truth. He will invite “the outsiders” into the fold, eat with sinners, challenge the Jewish authorities, heal the sick, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and more, without going to war, and three days after he dies he will rise again for all to see. Paul challenges us to follow Jesus’s example, even suffering for the sake of the good news. According to Paul, suffering becomes a tool to help us spread the good news, because it allows us to express the Lord’s compassion for the world (Philippians 1:8). Jesus suffered for the forgiveness of our sins; therefore, we must suffer in order to bring others into a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes everything possible. All we need to do is believe in the power of salvation and eternal life.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for challenging and changing our fundamentals. Prepare us to accept your Son into our hearts, so we may understand your gift of salvation. Call upon us to challenge the world’s fundamentals in order to share your salvation with others. Shine your light upon us always, so we can shine it on others. Amen.
[i] “Susan B. Anthony,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_B._Anthony.
[ii] Senator Tom Harkin, “Americans with Disabilities Act at 20: A Nation Transformed,” Huffington Post, 30 July 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sen-tom-harkin/ada-at-20-a-nation-transf_b_659001.html.
[iii] Christopher L. Webber, The Gift of New Hope: Advent 2015: An Advent Study of the Revised Common Lectionary (Nashville: Abingdon, 2015), 29.