Road construction, as we said in part 1 of this series on the Lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, is usually a nuisance. Today we learn that God wants to do a major road construction project. Will it be a nuisance? Do we need it? Let’s move to the third reading, Luke 3:1-6, and find out. Who do we meet there? Zechariah’s son, John, now an adult. Remember Zechariah the priest from the second reading? Review his story here. He had a son, John, and now that son is grown up, and we find out that his son is quite a character. Let’s take a look at how John fits with the readings so far this week.
We start with verses 1-3 which is simply a historical placement of John’s ministry in the First Century Roman Empire, and we read in verse 2 a familiar phrase, “the word of God came to John.” That phrase is used frequently in the Old Testament describing the prophetic ministry of many people whom God spoke through. Luke is clearly saying that this John, the son of Zechariah, was a prophet. He tells us that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, exactly like his dad, Zechariah, in his psalm Luke 1 which we studied in part 3, said John would.
Luke goes on in verses 4-6 quoting one of those Old Testament prophets, Isaiah 40:3-5, showing John as fulfillment of the prophetic words in Isaiah 40. We’ve already seen how John was the first messenger prophesied in Malachi 3, and now we hear a bit more about the first messenger’s prophetic task.
Remember how the first messenger prepares the way for the second messenger? In Isaiah 40, that ministry of preparing the way is illustrated with amazing images. It is a massive earth-moving project used to depict personal repentance.
Look at the images in Luke 3:4-5: “Make straight paths, Valleys filled in, Mountains and hills made low, Crooked roads straightened, Rough ways smoothed.” That is some serious demolition work done by this first messenger. But that’s what you do to prepare the way for the king. You don’t want the king’s vehicle to be driving down a road with potholes and crazy curves and dangerous debris.
When we lived in Jamaica, we experienced some of the roughest roads ever. But what was interesting was that the road from the airport into the city was really nice. They took care of that road. They wanted visiting dignitaries to think that Jamaica had nice roads.
How does this relate to people? The first messenger wasn’t a road construction worker with dynamite and a jack hammer, a paver and roller. Nope, John preached to people a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The messenger’s ministry was one of helping people smooth out the rough patches of their lives. He encouraged them to get ready spiritually for the coming of the king. That is what the Season of Advent in all about. And that is what the first messenger was doing to help people get ready for the arrival of the second messenger, the Lord.
Why? As we read in Luke 3:6, so that all mankind will see God’s salvation. God wants all people to repent and come to him and be saved. It doesn’t mean that all will. It is still a free choice. But God is saying that he desires all to repent. What that means is our theme continues. Though the word isn’t used,God wants all people to experience righteousness.
In part 5 of the series, we’ll look at our fourth and final reading, examining how the theme of repentance and righteousness matters to our lives and our world.