Isaiah 40:1-11 & Luke 1:1-25

Prepare the Way

In 1996 I spent 6 weeks on placement in the offices of Thameslink 2000. I was an engineering student, and the idea was to gain some experience of a large scale engineering project. According to Wikipedia, “The Thameslink Programme, originally Thameslink 2000, is a £6 billion project in south-east England to upgrade and expand the Thameslink rail network to provide new and longer trains between a wider range of stations to the north and to the south of London. The project was originally proposed in 1991 following the successful introduction of the initial Thameslink service in 1988. After many delays, planning permission was granted in 2006 and funding was approved in October 2007. Work started in 2009 and was completed on 18 September 2020.”

I wonder if anybody who was in that project office in the summer of 1996 was still working on the project when it was completed nearly 25 years later. I wonder if anybody saw it all the way through from its first proposal in 1991.

Initial proposals, consultations, buying land, clearing buildings, digging tunnels, building bridges, laying track, lengthening platforms, constructing stations. It all takes time, energy, and resources. Preparing the way can be a long and difficult process.

About 700 years before the birth of Jesus, God’s messenger, Isaiah, is speaking to the people of God. At other times he warns them about the troubles to come, but here he is reassuring them that those troubles will come to end, that God will not abandon them. There will be a return from exile, and beyond that, God’s glory will be revealed as God comes among them.

Seven centuries later this theme will be picked up by John the Baptist, whose birth is foretold in our reading from Luke’s historical account of the good news of Jesus. Prepare the way of the Lord.

We are currently in Advent, the season in which we think about getting ready and being prepared for the return of Jesus as King, in all his glory. The prophets, like Isaiah, foretold his first coming, and began preparing the way. John the Baptist went before him to prepare the way for his earthly ministry. So, what does it mean for us to prepare the way for his return?

Well, the first thing I’d like to suggest is that we prepare the way for his return by trusting that it’s going to happen. I wonder if you’ve ever been in a situation where you had been told to get ready for something, but you didn’t really think it was going to happen, so you didn’t get prepared? Perhaps the weather forecast said it was going to rain, but the sky looked clear, so you didn’t bother taking a coat or umbrella, and got soaked.

Isaiah knows what we’re like – all people are like grass, all human faithfulness like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever. It might be taking longer than we want, or hope, but we can trust God’s promises that Jesus will return. God’s word endures. It endured for the 700 years between Isaiah’s writing and Jesus’ first coming. It endures now, and will until Jesus’ return.

So – first step in preparing the way for Jesus’ return – believe it’s happening.

Second step – lift up your voice with a shout. Tell people about it. It is good news. It was good news when he came the first time, and it’s good news that he’s returning. Some of you will have seen these magazines and invitation cards. These are not for you. They are for your neighbours, friends, and work colleagues. You can find out when the Christmas services are from the notices. These are for you to give away, as you invite people to come with you to Christmas services to hear the good news of Jesus first coming, and to be prepared for his return. We are frustrated that most of our school services aren’t able to happen this year, so we’re having to be imaginative in how we share the good news with local families this year. As Caroline said last week, we are planning to give out 1,000 of these in our local junior schools. If you’re able to contribute financially to this, please have a word with Caroline.

So, second step in preparing the way for Jesus’ return – lift up your voice with a shout.

Third step – care for others tenderly. Now, those of you of an observant nature, will note that this is what Isaiah describes the Lord doing when he comes, rather than an instruction to his hearers. However, it seems to me that there are enough other scriptures where this attitude is commanded, and in which we are called to follow Jesus, and live by his kingdom values now, for us to take this as an example to follow.

We are to take care of those around us. We are to look our for and look after them. Whether that is through good neighbourliness, contributing to the Community Fridge, volunteering at the hospital, noticing when friends or colleagues are stressed or struggling. There’s so many opportunities for us to prepare the way of the Lord, by showing the people around us what it is like.

None of this preparation is a one time thing, it takes years, decades, even centuries. It takes persistence in our own lives, and through the generations. I am grateful for those who have gone before us here in Wellington, preparing the way. We are carrying the baton now, it’s our turn to prepare the way in this place, at this time. Let’s do so with courage, perseverance, and hope.

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