I have two questions for you: What does building a highway have to do with preparation for Christmas? What does it have to do with preparing for Christ’s coming?
I want us to understand what preparation Christ expects.
We will discuss Luke 3:1-6 and preparing the way for Christ.
Luke 3:1 It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. 2 Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. 3 Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 4 Isaiah had spoken of John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him! 5 The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level. The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth. 6 And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.’”
(Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)
1. Big and Small Things (vs. 1-2)
Rome invented the word dictatorship. Roman Emperor Tiberius reigned 14-37 AD. He was a gloomy and reclusive man, infamous for his cruelty and shameless debauchery. Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip and Lysanias were various local Roman governors in and around Judea. Annas and Caiaphas were puppet high priests over the Roman Judea, appointed by the local Roman governor, yet with great power over the Jewish people. The allusion to this world’s great and corrupt leaders sets the scene for what is to follow beginning in an insignificant corner of Israel. Do not despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:9-10), because God’s great works often begin small yet are of far greater significance than what’s currently in the news headlines. John’s ministry began in the wilderness, picturing a new Exodus and a new beginning preparing the way for Christ.
2. John’s Ministry (vs. 3)
John the Baptist traveled the region both sides of the Jordan with a message that was fundamentally the same as Jesus’, repentance and forgiveness. John’s baptism was basically a repentance-baptism, connecting the need for cleansing and repentance. Repentance presupposes that our society lacks something and needs a change. In John, we see repentance as turning away from old ways and pledging allegiance to God. Human sins cause great harm around the world, but forgiveness provides healing and restores unity in the community. In an era when prominent people and events of significance bring so much destruction, what John did in a corner prepared the way of peace. Many things crowd out the Christmas message like insipid politics and pathetic commercialism. The message of Christ’s coming is far more important. It was announced with a baptism of repentance in a wilderness.
3. Road Building
John the Baptist described three basic principles of highway building, making things straight, level and smooth. Paved streets dating back before Abraham have been found in Ur. The Roman Empire built major roads covering almost 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles). To create a modern highway, surveyors must calculate the best route, it must be designed and approved, land must be purchased, rock and earth must be removed by blasting and digging, depressions must be filled, and embankments, bridges and tunnels must be built following prescribed maximum gradients. Drainage and water courses must be integrated. All this is before the first level of road bed is put down. That may consist of aggregate base, base, intermediate and surface layers. The thickness of these layers varies around the world. John’s use of a road building metaphor pictures preparation to receive Christ.
4. Preparation (vs. 4-6)
John fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 40:3-5) in a fresh manner. Preparation for Christ’s coming is in turning to God. Jesus died rejected by the world. He comes to a people prepared to receive him. Making things straight and level and smooth is far more important than who has the power, fame and fortune in the world. Straight, level and smooth describes what happens in a changed heart prepared to receive Jesus. God is often involved in small things in this world’s eyes, things far away from the fame and fortune that this world seeks, like John’s ministry far from Rome and in an insignificant wilderness along the Jordan. The seemingly big things of this world are really insignificant. The seemingly small things of God, changed hearts are more significant than all the politics, wealth and celebrity of this world.
While we prepare for our observance of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, let us remember that most important preparation of all is to prepare our hearts. Repentance is preparation for Christ’s coming. What are we doing to prepare for his coming?