As it is written in the book of Isaiah, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Luke 3:4
I have lived in Brooklyn for the past 20 years. One thing I have discovered about the city of New York is that there is a lot of noise. There are voices talking ceaselessly over thousands of radio and TV stations, sirens from ambulances, fire trucks, etc., and now and then one recognizes the unmistakable sounds of gunshots. Noise, as well as voices is everywhere clamoring for a hearing, but not having the answer to the needs of the world.
In this verse we hear it said of John the forerunner to the promised Messiah: "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Luke 3:4). John the Baptist has been described as a courier of the King, but he did not work for an earthly monarch. He was the advance man for Jesus. John was the immediate forerunner of the Messiah, opening up the way for the coming Christ. The Gospels tell us he was "a man sent from God" (John 1:6). He was very much of that prophetic tradition, cast in the mold of the greatest of them; in fact he was the last of their line. John didn’t call attention to himself; it was his mission as well as his message that mattered.
John was seriously proclaiming his message. He had good news in the words he quoted from Isaiah, "all mankind will see God’s salvation" (Luke 3:6). But it wasn’t good in the sense of being comfortable for the people. John was in the same prophetic tradition of Amos bringing news of terror: "Flee from the coming wrath … every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:7, 9). Why was John’s message so stern and why the language so uncompromising? He had to shake the people out of the false confidence which they firmly believed was their security, both as a nation and as individuals. They had grown up with the assumption that since they were the descendants of Abraham, and therefore members of the chosen race, they were already in a right relationship with God. This false security had to be broken down before they could come into a right relationship with God.
So John issued a call to repentance.
The people had to recognize that they had to abandon their pride of self-sufficiency, lineage, and false security. They had to turn away from evil ways and come to God as sinners needing forgiveness. When John saw Jesus coming toward him he introduced him to the crowd, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus was the way back to God through faith in his sacrifice as the Lamb of God. Sin had to be dealt with and Jesus the sinless one had taken it on himself and dealt with it once and for all. Today, Advent reminds us that he came for this purpose.
I wonder as we are in the season of Advent now: who is that voice in the wilderness calling men and women to repentance? Who declares to those who need to hear that God is not pleased with the current climate of gun violence? Have we become so numb to violence that we have accepted it as the norm? If so, God help us! Why are there not churches, groups, people of good will, and people who are tired of the violence, coming together to unite against this evil? Why aren’t we all having a march chanting “Enough is enough?” I think we as a nation have become the murder capital of the world. No well-meaning citizen thinks this is a record of which to be proud. God is looking for people who, like the prophet John, are willing to make some noise, speak truth to power, and be a voice for God in all areas of life despite the consequences of such an approach. That, I believe, is the need of the hour; It is to call our nation back to God in repentance.
It is unconscionable that at this time of Advent, this time of peace and goodwill toward all, there are some who refuse to embrace all of scripture. Jesus called us as Christians, to “love your enemies, and pray for them who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Many people hear the voice of God and yet seem to fall away. They do not think that this applies to some religious groups. They have become so possessed with fear and paranoia. In the time of John, it was the life one lived, not lineage that was God’s standard of measurement! So, calling ourselves Christians is not enough. We must as John declared “bring fruits worthy of repentance.”
John’s message wasn’t a cheap gospel. Repenting, being baptized, and then remaining the same as you were before wasn’t sufficient. Real repentance had as much to do with the future as with the past. It included the sincere resolve to amend our ways and renounce old evil. Luke records how specific groups of people asked John how this life of repentance applied to them. His answers were clear and forthright. The message of the Gospel had to work its way through all of life’s experiences. In other words, it’s not only for Sunday but for all of the other days of the week as well.
The wealthy and powerful were told to be open-hearted and kind. God can’t be pleased if the well-off don’t help those who have too little.
May God who is rich in mercy, bless and keep you all at this time of Advent, and may his peace be with you now and forever. Have a Christ-filled Christmas, A happy Kwanzaa and a prosperous new year.
Edward Jenkins Sr. (M.Div. ‘13) is the pastor of Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.