“I like your Christ but not your Christians”. So is quoted Mahatma Ghandi regarding his encounter with western Christendom. His encounter with Christianity could be said to be one that was English culture, English customs and English power all in a very imperial and oppressive context. This was not an encounter with the Christianity of Jesus but his broadest view he had was skewed. If one uses the ministry of John the Baptist as a lens, one can get a preview of how to perceive all the gospels. It is no coincidence that Jesus as an adult in all four books is directly preceded then personally hailed by him. If one get John right, then one has a better chance to get Jesus right. But if we stay in a premise that puts Jesus as any other reactionary figure, we will only react to the ups and downs of life with a blunted experience of Christianity.
[t]he word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout [the] whole region of 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:
“A voice of one crying out in the desert:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:2b-6).
A voice of one crying out in the desert- It should not be lost on those who seek something more than what the world offers that the view it takes to convert has to be from outside of ones assumptions of complacency. To cry out from especially our realization of lack is hard. But it is harder to be hungry for God if you are full of yourself.
Prepare the way of the Lord- The mystery of what comes next after one repents is moot- – if one does not repent. Calling out ones failings to the mercy of God is getting out of God’s way to bless you. The crossing of the Red Sea is also implied. It was the great Exodus. In Greek it was the exhoda which is the “way out” of the bondage of Egypt. However, the “way” of the Lord is hoda meaning “way”. Jesus identified himself as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus is more than a way out of physical slavery but of spiritual slavery which is far worse. The early Church were “followers of the way” because they celebrated the latter freedom in Jesus with each gathering. It is almost like a scriptural undertone of messianic expectation for then but it applies to those who turn to Jesus now. We are called in conversion to embrace the meaning of preparation. Doing such, we might as well have the joy of the Lord along the way between those times of grace one can experience.
Every valley shall be filled- The natural question is on what it would be filled with. The best filling of this void is not by a thing or event but by God who is the great I AM. “Our hearts are restless until we find rest in you” (Augustine). Jesus’ name means God saves and as we see a few verses later salvation is what all will see.
every mountain and hill shall be made low– – My first thought in reflecting on this line is that the elite would be brought down since John had his own dealings with the religious elite of his day. Mary addressed this in her fiat “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:52). But if one sees in the Old Testament how hill and mountain are used, there is a historical interpretation.
Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?Who can stand in his holy place?
“The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who has not given his soul to useless things,
what is vain.
He will receive blessings from the Lord,
and justice from his saving God.
Such is the generation that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”
Selah (Psalms 24: 4-6)
Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?Who can stand in his holy place?– – It is a psalm of celebration in approaching the temple of God with the Ark of the Covenant. This reference is shorthand that an encounter with God is a tangible presence that can be sensed from the deepest part of the heart.
For the Old Testament this was the closest way a personal encounter with the divine could be expressed due to the standards of that day. The presumption was formality with a specific focus on ceremony about God but not God directly. Jesus changed everything because in Him “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God was untouchable but in Jesus the divine is touchable. John the apostle elaborated on this.
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life—
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us—
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).
So how is this mountain made low? It is in how Jesus is the eternal Word of the Blessed Trinity and he chose to become flesh in a leveling of the field (John 1:14).
The winding roads shall be made straight- A frustrating thing occurs on a winding road. One would wish they can go from Point A to Point B like the birds fly. Such is the role of increasing simplicity in someone who is increasing in their relationship to God. God does not self-reveal as a calculus equation. God is beyond our understanding so the straight path is giving up the pretense we can put God in an overcomplicated box.
the rough ways made smooth– -Rough ways is a loaded term. If someone is walking on ground that is uneven or filled with thorns then such is the stuff that the human body takes in only with endurance to get the walk over with. A smooth path in relationship is how one can see the other in a way that is against the design of the person. The smooth path to God is the honest one.
all flesh shall see the salvation of God– John is speaking to both of the comings of Jesus. Jesus would soon be on the scene and His presence would be on foot, on the cross, in communion and someday in the clouds. In the last one, Jesus would go from being seen by many to all.
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob- – This is noteworthy in returning to the theme of God’s presence. Jacob had a tangible wrestling match with God and he was transformed with the new name of Israel. God transforms the proud to be humble and the humble to those exalted. Ultimately shown in the end with Jesus with his name being the greatest name, a transformation can happen if we truly seek his face. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9)
Do I wish I was a pilgrim that day at the exchange of the life in Christ I have now? Even the idea of following Jesus in only up to the cross? No, due to the life in Christ I can have with him now. There is knowing him after the flesh like then, but receiving him in the greatest reality that can be experienced now is far better.
And as much as I can have hope in that, I would like to leave you with the hope of the Christian faith in completely coming to full circle in the future in Jesus. This is the ultimate “way of the Lord” we prepare for in onward growth that is so fitting to those called by his name.
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phillipians 2:6-11).