The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 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,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside 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 thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)
This summer I was trained to be a Legal Observer with the ACLU. Our role is to keep watch and ensure that the first amendment rights of free speech and assembly for protest are not violated. Organizers of a protest, march, or rally can request Legal Observers from the ACLU. I don’t believe I’ve been out when I wasn’t thanked by a demonstrator for being there.
Legal Observers wear identifying attire and do not participate in the action. We cross with the lights at a crosswalk because we are careful not to break any laws while observing. We try to stay at the periphery of what is happening so that we can see the big pictures and observe effectively.
I’ve observed at weekday afternoon protests where there were almost as many Legal Observers as demonstrators and nighttime marches occurring after curfew where there was heavy armored equipment, riot gear, and officers carrying tear gas cannisters on their vests.
Sometimes we get close when there is something we need to document, or when the action comes to us. But usually, we stay on the edge of what is happening, observing but not participating. I believe what we do is important. There is a purpose to standing on the sidelines and watching what is going on without being a part of it.
When I hear the stories of John the Baptist, I think of crowds of people standing on the periphery just watching what is going on. In his always intense and urgent language, Mark tells us that the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem were coming to be baptized by John. But we know this isn’t the full story.
Besides having the accounts of the other Gospels, we know there is rarely unity in action across economic, political, racial, and religious lines. When the people went out to see John at the Jordan River, there were counter-protestors, Roman military, government officials, and bystanders.
They came because there was definitely something to see. John himself was a sight to see. His association with the wilderness — away from the religious and political power centers — was consistent with many Old Testament prophets. As were his leather belt and hairy cloak. His diet was ultra-kosher. John was not the average 1st century Jew. Those who encountered John knew there was something different about him even before he spoke.
If we were all Legal Observers on this second week of Advent, we would stand observing the crowds as John preaches God’s dream. With every person who presents themselves to be baptized, we see them coming out of the water as John declares them new even if they look the same. We observe the religious leaders of various denominations, some nodding their heads along with John while others shake in disagreement. We notice the government officials concerned about what this might mean for them, and the Roman military on the edge watching and wondering if this whole thing might go bad.
As we watch and discern, we should begin asking ourselves, “Is it time for us to get involved?”
At times, I’m a Legal Observer, but other times I’m part of the action. Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries in the UCC says,
Preparing the Lord’s path means challenging systems and structures that we have institutionalized as normal but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked. It means clearing the path of self-aggrandizement, self-absorption, and greed to make way for a community where all of creation is valued.
John the Baptist puts himself out there, willing to take the risk to prepare the way for the Lord. He stepped away from the periphery to join the work of making the path to salvation a little less crooked because this was not only his dream, it was also God’s. John chooses to be a part of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.
As Ecclesiastes says for everything there is a season and a time. There is a time for observing and there is a time to take action.
Advent is not a time for observing.
This is the time of preparing the way for God’s dream of justice. This is more than good wishes and the best of intentions. This is a dream of equality and unity of all people. It is a dream where love and faithfulness meet bearing righteousness and peace as the result. As the psalmist says,
Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.
As we continue in this Advent season, how are we willing to be part of bringing God’s dream alive in the world?
In our families and communities, how can we prepare the way?
What are we willing to sacrifice join love and faithfulness; righteousness and peace?
Every Advent we find ourselves at the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Every Advent we have the opportunity to prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight. I know this year has been difficult and winter is coming. If there were any year we need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, this is it. And if there were any time the world needed to hear it, the time is now.
Beloved, though we may feel like we are in the wilderness, we are not without hope. We don’t need to wait until Christmas for the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding. We have it now. With the boldness of John the Baptist, let us proclaim what we know to be true. Let us step forward, straightening the paths for those who seek to know righteousness and freedom from oppression. Let us live God’s dream this Advent season.
Faithful and righteous God, we are a weary people. We grow tired of dreaming for love and peace only to wake and find that hatred and division persist. Lord, even if our lifetime does not include the day when all has been restored, continue to place your dream in our hearts. Let this Advent be the beginning of our renewed participation in preparing the way for justice and reconciliation. And until all righteousness if fulfilled, we pray, Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.
 c.f. 1 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4
 Psalm 85:13 (NRSV), and earlier referencing v.10.
 Traci Blackmon. “Preparing the Way for Justice.” Alliance for Fair Food. December 9, 2018. allianceforfairfood.org/news/2018/12/2/growing-the-light-advent-reflection-week-2-preparing-the-way-for-justice-xkm9x