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Those Who Dream...prepare the way

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"-"a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him." And so John the Baptists appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: "After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. -John 1:1-8 Read the whole chapter.

So Tom Northup is a retired, or a former executive of several companies, and an author on leadership. One of his better-known books is called "Five Hidden Mistakes CEO's Make" He is attributed with a quote that says "Right now, your company gets the results, good or bad it was designed to get. If your vision of the future differs from your current situation, if you want to get better results, then you must change the way you do things. If you don't, how can you expect results that you've already been achieving?" He makes a good point that right now, any corporation is perfectly designed to get the results that it's getting. For that matter, we could say the same thing: any church in its current structure and setup is perfectly designed to be getting the results that it's getting. Or in your life, the results that you're getting, whether it's your emotional health, your physical wealth, your physical fitness, or any of those things, what you are doing right now is perfectly designed to continue getting the results that you're getting right now. It's a truth that a lot of people have a hard time accepting.

Businesses, churches, people: we don't want to accept the fact that right now, everything we're doing will continue to get us those results. Because quite frankly, there are a lot of results that none of us are that satisfied with. That's exactly what John the Baptist was calling the people to. The question he could have asked them is, 'So how's it working out for you right now? Are you liking the way things are going?' He knew the answer. He knew that they needed and wanted a change. John the Baptist appeared at the end of what is referred to by Biblical scholars as the inter-testamental period. Basically what that means is it's a period of time between the two testaments that we have in our Bible: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The New Testament begins with the Gospels, with the story of Jesus, the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament ended as we have it in our Canon with the prophet Malachi.

Roughly a period of 400 years had gone by since that last prophet of any repute that was recorded in Scriptures. Now it doesn't mean that nothing was happening for the people of Israel, but really this was the time in which they were becoming a diaspora, or a scattered people: moving and mingling among that Mediterranean region. They were becoming a little more Greek in their ways, a little more worldly or affected by that Greco-Roman culture of that day. It was a time in which they were under occupation, but life and worship in the Temple was continuing. It was their status quo. The results they were getting, their system, their culture, the world they were a part of was set up and perfectly designed for them to continue getting the results that they were getting.

But John the Baptist said, 'Do you want something different? Does life feel unsettled to you right now? Maybe it's time for a change.' But he was more ardent in his call. It was not, 'Hey would you like to consider this possibility instead of this one?' John the Baptist was not a normal person. He lived out in the wilderness. He wore a camel-hair coat. He had a wide leather belt. He lived off the land eating locusts and honey. He quite literally subsided day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. And yet he was so passionate about what he felt God was calling him to that he forsook all of the trappings of society, all of the things that would have made him normal to be solely focused on this mission, this calling to go before the One that was to come. It's almost like someone being excited and thrilled about being the backup quarterback. Or the one who would do all the behind-the-scenes work and never get the recognition for the scientific discovery, the blockbuster movie, or whatever prominent thing they laid the way for.

I think John the Baptist was alright with that. John the Baptist was more concerned about the big picture of what was going on. John the Baptist was more interested in letting people know that, 'Hey you don't need to be stuck. You don't need to remain satisfied with the way that things are.' So his call was one to repent. Repent quite literally means turning from one way, one direction, one thing that you're set on, and going in a new direction. John the Baptist very boldly and publicly proclaimed, 'Repent, turn, change, seek forgiveness of your sins.' Now for many of us, we might look at that statement and say, 'I know I'm not perfect but I'm not this wretched despicable person that is doing terrible things all the time, so what do I have to repent of?' But the truth of it is, that this call of repentance is not just a 'you need to be motivated to change. You need to be motivated to eat better and exercise more and spend less money.' This is about being motivated to allow God to completely transform your life. To take you from whatever it is your life is focused and fixated on and reorient it so that the sole focus of your life is on God.

As it was for John, I think John had discovered the power of that transformation. When a life is focused and oriented upon God. So John rolled up his sleeves and resolved to do the work of making sure that others could come to know, learn, and understand who this God was that was calling them from the lives that they were living to a new life. A changed life. A life committed to and dedicated to God's work in this world. So he began by going forth and loudly proclaiming. Not going up and subtly tapping people on shoulders saying, 'Hey would you like to consider something?' No. He was bold and loud, 'Hey you! Everyone, you need to repent!' And people listened. All the Judean countryside and all the people in Jerusalem were told, 'We're going out to the wilderness, to the river Jordan where John was proclaiming and baptizing a baptism of repentance and forgiveness.'

This preparing the way isn't just about going through all of the niceties of this season. Our sanctuary is beautiful right now. The lights, the trees, the manger scene. And I'm guessing many of your homes have taken on that appearance as well. It's a wonderful part of this season. But it's not the most important part. It's not just about rearranging a few things and preparing the way so that we can all stand and "ooh and ahh" the baby in the manger. It's about preparing the way for the true work of transformation taking place in a person's life. Of not just being about to say, 'I went to that program and I baked those cookies and I did this and that.' It's about recognizing that our lives are not yet what God desires them to be. They are not yet what they can be by the power of God's Holy Spirit.

But we're people of habit. Like those people that John came to who had been set in their ways for 400 years. We need something to disrupt us. Something to unsettle us. Something to remind us that we are in need of that transformation. We are in need of being changed from within. We need something like John for a circumstance or an event like John to stir things up and prompt us to seek different results in our lives. When we look at the world we live in right now, some of those things have been happening. Certainly, there's been plenty of disruption to our normal activity, our normal routines. All of those things that we want and long to be able to do. But what do we do with that? Do we just sit back and bide our time and wait for it to go away so we can resume business as usual?

Early on in the spring going through this pandemic and the lockdown that we experienced really being more restricted than we are now, I'd shared that you know in some ways there were some blessings. Because for our family it meant a dramatic slowdown, from the flurry of activity that we were involved in. For many people it meant spending more time being intentional about reaching out, calling, and talking to people. That under the surface of all of the challenges and frustrations presented there were good things happening and there still are. But my question, even then was, what are we going to do when things do start to go back? Are we just going to rush back to the way they were forgetting all of those lessons and all of the positives that came out of it? Or are we going to be intentional about hanging on to some of that? Well unfortunately even our family, we are somewhat creatures of habit. We do in many ways just drift back to what's familiar, what's comfortable, whether it's right or not.

But John issues a call. To repent, to change, to turn from those toxic relationships, from that filling ourselves with that constant flow of media that continues to weigh on us and agitate us, from being stuck to social media feeds or glued to our devices. There are things that John's call of repenting of could make a significant difference in our lives. If we heeded that call to turn from all of those things that stand in our way, all of those things that are barriers, hindrances, and roadblocks to us truly being able to focus solely upon God. So we do that work of preparing the way. Of saying, 'You know what I don't need to listen to the 24/7 news cycle. I don't need to see what the latest and greatest is in my social media feed. I don't need to allow those things that are robbing me of joy and peace to continue to do that.' So part of repenting is seeking forgiveness, putting behind us those past sins but also letting go. Letting go of those habits, those patterns, those things that keep us from truly being the people of God in our world.

We see this called repentance coming in many ways, socially as well. For all of the protests that are going on, I know there are many thoughts and opinions about right or wrong and should it happen or shouldn't it. But friends, the bottom line is that when there are people who feel oppressed, when there are people that feel as though they have not had a fair chance, we can't say, 'No, you don't. You don't feel that way. You've not experienced that.' So many that call to repent is for us to turn from caricatures, to turn from attacks, to turn from those things that paint a picture that says this person deserves to be less and allow God to reorient our hearts and our minds around a world in which peace truly is possible. We're continuing through this transition with one administration preparing to exit the White House and another enter in. Some are ecstatic about that, some not so much. But the truth of it is, it's a fleeting thing. It's a temporary thing. It's not God's ultimate thing. So regardless of now, later, or years to come who occupies that seed of power, there is one even greater.

John the Baptist recognized that he had a role to play. But he said, 'It's not about me. It's about the one greater than I. The one who is so great that I'm not even worthy to take the sandals off of his feet. Friends we're called to do that work of preparing the way. To dream of a better world. To dream of a better life. To dream of what life could be if God's plan took the forefront. So we prepare the way in our own lives. We prepare that in this season we might be ready and willing and able to allow God to change us. And in doing so, to change the world. We prepare in our own lives. But we prepare for others as well. We prepare that others might see the good that comes when a life is focused upon God. The good that can come when it is infused with the Holy Spirit that allows God's love to show forth. We prepare the way that others and all this world may come to know of the mercy and grace that God is offering us through His son. And to receive him isn't to just say, 'Oh, that's nice, that's sweet.' But it's to discover the power to discover the love, the hope, the peace that can only be found in Jesus.


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