In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “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.”’
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Prepare the way of the Lord…
On this final morning of the year, what a reminder of the joys and challenges of sharing the Good News.
I sometimes think that there are calendar days which help us to reflect as well as begin to prepare for what is yet to come. The end of the year can so easily be one of these.
Many of us will be reflecting on the journeys that we have made during 2018 and looking forward in faith to the steps that we will make after the clock has struck midnight tonight. But as we go forward, walking this way alongside Jesus, we also need to remember to prepare: not just ourselves for the journey, but also the way for others in their journey’s with Jesus. I pray that in this coming year, and in the years to come, we can continue to clear the paths for others as they make their way to Jesus. It can be hard to keep the pathways clear but if we can sweep away the many trip-hazards that church can put in the way, cut back the brambles of “we’ve always done it that way” that can snare us up and lay solid foundations of faith and grace for people to walk along, then we could truly help people to come and encounter Jesus afresh and without unneeded challenges thrown in their way.
In this new year, how transformational could it be if we all walked more deliberately and determinedly as we made the way smoother for one another, and for those who Jesus gives us to walk with?
God of the journey and the new beginning, thank you for the journeys we are making, and for the new ones beginning. As we reflect on the passing of a year and the start of a new one, we thank you for continuing to walk with us. May we be companions who walk with you and invite others to join us. Give us the grace we need to be changed by their companionship. Guide us in your ways. Amen
The Rev’d John Grundy is Minister of St Andrews URC, Brockley and St Michaels United Church, New Cross, London.