The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, 2 happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:
Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
3 a voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”
4 John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 5 Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Verse 3 of our passage refers back to several Old Testament verses. One of them is Exodus 23:20, where God says a messenger will be sent. Then in Exodus 23:23, it says the messenger will wipe out the enemies of the Israelites. The people of God were looking for God to send someone who would destroy their enemies, a warrior leader who could make a change in their status, not a baby in a manger born to a poor family from Nazareth. They wanted plagues and fire and war to stop their enemies – something like what God did to free them from Pharoah in Egypt. They were not sure what to make of John the Baptist, a pacifist who lived by himself in the wilderness. John led people to repent and be baptized in the Jordan River even as he claimed to them to be the forerunner of the Messiah. The many baptisms demonstrated people saw a need for change in their lives and a need to be forgiven by God, but many were disappointed in the fact that Jesus was to be the Messiah. He was not an impressive leader by any means given his poor background – even though he was from King David’s line. It was important for Matthew (Chapter 1) to list Jesus’s bloodline so that people would respect that, but it didn’t seem to matter. The change they wanted was something very different than what they were presented with, but the fact that God sent Jesus has changed everything for all of us!
When we look at our Advent theme of keeping Christmas, and this week’s theme of change, I think again of Scrooge who did not want to change himself. The change he wanted was for Christmas to not be in existence. It took ghosts and visions to change his heart -not a very conventional way to learn something.
I live in Indiana, Pennsylvania, hometown of Jimmy Stewart. If you don’t know, Jimmy Stewart was a WWII B-24 Liberator pilot and an actor who was in 80 films between 1935-1991. One of his best-known films is It’s a Wonderful Life. It is a film you either love or hate. I love it. Every year in Indiana we have the It’s a Wonderful Life festival that lasts from light up night in November until Christmas. You can watch the movie every day during that time at the Jimmy Stewart Museum. In the movie, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character) from a very early age wants nothing but change. He dreams of leaving his hometown and building big things all over the world. He never actually leaves his hometown. He does make big changes within his family and community, but until he is shown otherwise by visions from an angel after a predicament that he did not create, he feels that the world would have been better off without him. In the end he sees that he truly has a wonderful life. The change in him came from very unlikely circumstances just as the change in Scrooge.
People have looked for change in their circumstances since the beginning of human existence, but sometimes change does not come to us in the exact way we hope or think it should. We need to be willing to look at what God is doing around us, in us, and through us and to work with God, Jesus and the Spirit to make change possible.
by Janet Waryck
For Pondering & Prayer
As we continue to reflect this week as we draw ever closer to Christmas, what changes can we make, what changes do we need to make, and what changes have we already made? God has made changes in the world through history as well as through us in this present day. As we celebrate Jesus’s coming to us as a human baby, may we be alert to those things that may be unexpected in our lives and strive to make the necessary change to better be like Christ in this world.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for sending us Jesus and the Holy Spirit to guide us toward change. Please give us the wisdom and the vision to see those things that we need to change and to be open to ways that may not be conventional. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.