“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 desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” –Mark 1:2 (NIV)
We’ve now come to about the halfway point in this particular season of Advent – and liturgically speaking that usually means our annual visit from that “fiery prophet of old,” John the Baptist.
Though he only appears in a handful of gospel texts, and though where the lectionary is concerned, he disappears as suddenly as he arrives on the scene, I have to confess a certain fondness for John the Baptist. After all, you’ve got to love a guy who subsists on a diet of dead insects and wild honey, and whose fashion statement consists of the look (and likely the smell) of camel! But while John was certainly an eccentric, with words that are painfully blunt (Odds are you’ll never see, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” written on a Christmas card!), his message was nonetheless important and essential in pointing the way to the coming of the Christ; urging people to a baptism of repentance, calling them to turn themselves back toward the Lord’s vision for Creation. It is no mistake that Mark begins his account of the Gospel with the words, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and then speaks directly of John the Baptist. For truly, this “fool in the wilderness” was about the work of building a road; paving the way for the coming of the Lord!
Halford Luccock once wrote that “every fresh coming of Christ in the world has followed the work of those who have been ‘road makers.’” In this era of modern construction, we’ve all but lost the term, but there is a fine old word in English which expresses the role of a road maker perfectly: Pavior, that is, one who paves a road, who “prepares the way” and makes “paths straight.” “The world needs a Savior,” wrote Luccock, “but it also needs paviors. John the Baptist was a pavior, and called others, then and now, to be the same. Christ needs preparers of the way.”
Are you a pavior? That’s something to consider as we continue through these days of Advent and the spiritual endeavor of waiting, watching and preparing for both Christ’s coming in the manger of Bethlehem, and for his return in God’s time and plan. We are all too aware of just how easily the busy-ness of the “holiday season” can deter us from that task; what we sometimes forget is that also so much of everyday life and living can also distract us and clutter the way. Hence the need for each one of us to take on the role of pavior: clearing away the cultch and garbage of anger, regret and fear that has slowly accumulated within our hearts and minds, filling the potholes of sing and arrogance that have formed along the highway of our daily lives and living; so that on the promised day of his coming nothing will stand between us and the Lord.
Indeed, just as building a straight highway in the desert is a monumental task, so is preparing own way of the Lord. For us to be paviors requires personal spiritual examination; a reevaluation and very often the complete reversal of lifestyles, priorities and attitudes. It means casting away the old habits and worn out ideas that keep us from a faithful relationship with God; it means being reborn to something – and somebody – new! Make no mistake, this is not ever to be considered a simple task to achieve – in fact, one might say it’s impossible – but then again, that’s exactly why we need a Savior to help us, this Savior who is Christ the Lord!
So with a little less than two weeks to go, a looking a bit more closely toward the horizon with hope for the birth of a beautiful, tiny child in a manger, perhaps we also ought to cast more than a passing gaze at this wild-eyed, camel hair-clothed eccentric who even now is crying out from the fringes of our polite celebrations a plea for us to get ourselves ourselves (and the world) truly ready for that child’s coming! My suspicion is that each of us are to be honest about it, there are still many spiritual valleys in our lives that have yet to be filled; lots of mountains and hills that ought to be leveled, and crooked pathways that are in dire need of straightening. The time for such work is now, and not later. After all, why would we not want to prepare the way, especially when the purpose of doing so is to be ready for is the fulfillment of the great and glorious promise that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God?”
Christ comes, and soon and very soon! So let each of us endeavor to pave the way!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry