Prepare the Way
By Pastor John J. Pawloski - December 10th, 2023
Mark 1:1-8 (NRSVue)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight,’ ”
so John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the whole Judean region and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Have you ever participated in something people had been planning for years? I actually had the good fortune when I was eighteen years old to wait on the entire 1983 Miss Universe Pageant—all 80 contestants and their chaperones (ugh!) People had worked for years to bring the pageant to St. Louis, and developed a number of sites around town for filming segments of the pageant. I also remember when Pope John Paul II came to St. Louis. (My parents got to serve communion). I remember that for months the news had one story after another how the entire city was going to be so congested that people were warned to stay away—- and they did, so much so that it was actually embarrassing for the City, because it looked like no one cared. I remember watching the Pope’s motorcade drive by with about thirty people cheering on Lindell Avenue as he drove by, headed toward the rectory at the New Cathedral. I also remember a similar outcome for the Hands across America fundraiser, which tried to raise money for forming a human chain across the country. People actually drove out to the desert to hold hands, knowing there were certain areas that would be very difficult to have a complete human chain. Their efforts were not even close.
As some of these stories teach us, just having a good cause or a famous guest does not guarantee good results. In fact, sometimes the hype and fear around some visitors is so great that you will scare people away from participating. Like Yogi Bara once said, “that restaurant is so popular no one goes there anymore.” I think sometimes we treat Christmas like this—an occasion so holy, so special that nothing we can do will do it justice. No words. No ceremony. No decorations. Nothing can measure up to the majesty that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth as one of us. Sometimes we might think, why bother? Why even try? Perhaps we should go back to the basics of preparing ourselves for special guests.
Remember being a kid growing up and your parents announced that you were having company? Maybe a relative that lived far away, or a military or college friend of a parent. Invariably, this meant we would have to really clean up the house. Not just the upstairs, but the basement. One of the ugly secrets of the Pawloski household was that our basement held more artifacts than the Smithsonian museums. The basement had at one point become so unsightly that the Pawloski Blood Rule was issued. This meant that only persons related by blood or marriage were permitted to see the floor to ceiling holdings of the basement. So cleaning the basement was not something that could be completed in a day (unless you had lots of reinforcements). My point is that Jesus does not care about how clean your house is. Jesus is more concerned about clearing your heart from the clutches of sin, doubt, and fear. We might do well to remember that we have work to do to prepare our hearts for Christmas. It’s going to take more than a day. It is going to take a lot of work to get there, but won’t it feel good when you finally complete the task?
The other thing I remember about having a guest come to visit is that we always ate special food. We would go shopping for days in advance. Special dishes were prepared. No hamburger helper in sight. Again, Jesus does not care about your culinary taste, but does care that we make the effort to share meals with our church universal family. Not just giving people the unwanted cans of food from our cupboard that we bought on sale and forgot they were there. But sharing savory and sumptuous food. Food that we will remember. Food that satisfies. Food that lifts one’s spirits.
So how might we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus? We need to resolve the clutter of our lives. Not just the stuff reducing your two car garage to a one car garage, but the clutter of our personal lives. The relationships that have been torn apart due to unresolved grievances. Earnest effort to repair whatever is broken should be made, even if you didn’t start it. Proper boundaries are to be respected, but if there is an opportunity to repair broken relationships, we must try if we are to face the coming of our savior with a clear conscience. We must seek and offer forgiveness. While we are at it, we should forgive God for the times we expected God’s intervention and we did not feel it. While we are cleaning up the mess of our lives, we should empty the vacuum bag of guilt, anger, and judgment. That bag is overflowing, and it is stealing your joy (more on joy next week). Leave the judging to God. God could use your help with the loving though. There is always room for more loving and kindness in this world. Finally, do your Christmas homework. Pray more. Read your bible more. Think about what you believe and why you believe it. Pray that your heart will be open to what Jesus can teach you in this moment. So the most important guest in human history is on his way. Prepare the Way for him. Get to work!