I think we humans struggle to take compliments sometimes. Ladies, I’m sorry to say, we’re the worst at this. More than once I’ve heard someone say “thank you” only for the other person to respond “it was no big deal.” It was a big deal to me! If I said “thank you” it’s because you helped me and I am grateful. I have given someone a compliment on a nice top, piece of jewelry, or lip color only to have someone poo-poo the compliment by saying things like “oh this old thing?” or “I don’t wear it very often because I’m not a fan of this…” I think what you meant to say was “thank you for the compliment.” I think that at the root of this is the idea that in one way or another, we’re just not worthy.
We have convinced ourselves that we’re not worthy of a lot of things. We’re not worthy of that new position or raise at work. We don’t think we’re worthy of that gym membership, new outfit, or haircut. We don’t think we’re worthy of whatever fun shiny new object we’ve put on our Christmas list. We don’t think we’re worthy of love. And we may struggle with the idea that we’re even worthy of the grace that God gives us. Of course, maybe this is just me. But, I think we all at some point in time or another struggle with the idea that we are worthy of whatever we may be receiving.
While I understand this attitude, and heck, I actually know it all too well. It can actually be something that hampers us in the process of being Christians. I learned a lot of things in seminary, but one of the things that really stuck and continues to comfort me is this: God does not call the prepared. God prepares the called. So if for some reason you think that you are not worthy to go into this world spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone who will hear it, you need to stand corrected. We are all called to do this. God prepares us for this task through the words of scripture and through this Holy meal. God calls all of us to be disciples. And before you’re too quick to say “nope, Pastor, not me!” allow me to tell you you’re wrong. Luther even talked about this concept (quite a bit) and called it the “priesthood of all believers.” We are all equipped, or become equipped, to be disciples.
And so why does it matter? What in the world does this have to do with our reading for today? The word of God came to John, son of Zachariah. So? Look at the list of people in our reading that the word of God could have come to. The Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate (who was the governor), Herod (ruler of Galilee), his brother, Philip (who was also a ruler), Lysanias (also a ruler), and Annas and Caiaphas (both priests). The word of God could have come to any of those men. Any of them. They were men of power. People would have listened to them. In that time, if any of those men spoke, people listened. Who better to have the word of God come to than any of those men? But, instead, the word of God came to John.
Now, as a reminder, this was John the Baptist. He wasn’t the most popular person around. He lived in the wilderness, which was known as a place of darkness, danger, and uncertainty. He ate honey and locusts. He wore clothes made out of camel’s hair. To put it bluntly, if you saw John the Baptist on the street, you might divert your eyes or even cross over to the other side of the road. John the Baptist was the most unlikely person for the word of God to come to. But, God did as God does and God found John the Baptist in the wilderness (of all places) and turned him into a prophet. For the record, Herod later had John the Baptist beheaded. He was most likely intimidated by this new found power that John had. The point is, in the most unlikely of places and with the most unlikely of people, God acted.
What if we heard the start of this Gospel reading in a new way? What if we heard it for our current context. It would sound something like this. In the fifteenth (almost sixteenth) year of the twenty-first century, when Barack Obama was President of the United States of America, and Terry Brandstad was Governor of Iowa, and Mark Vulich was the mayor of Clinton, Don Thiltgen was the mayor of DeWitt, and Kenneth Fahlbeck was the mayor of Camanche, the word of the Lord came to the people of Elvira Zion Lutheran Church in rural Clinton County. Oh can you imagine!
How quickly would we try and shoo God away? “You don’t mean us, God. Certainly not us! Maybe you should choose someone else. Can we give you directions to that bigger church down the road?” And before you’re quick to say “yeah, but that’ll never happen” it actually already has, brothers and sisters. Many many times this has happened. God has come here, to this place, spoken to us many and various ways and what have we done with the message? Every time we witness a baptism, God is here. Every time we eat the body and blood of Christ, God is here. When we gather to celebrate the lives of our saints, God is most definitely here. God is in our tears and in our laughter. God is in our youngest member and God is in our oldest member. God doesn’t care if you think you’re capable or not, God’s word has come to you in one way or another. What have you done with it?
Have you invited someone to come with you on a Sunday? Have you offered to pray for or with someone? Have you visited someone that cannot be with us? Have you made a meal for someone who is sick or mourning? Have you written a note, letter, or card to someone letting them know you care? In these actions, brothers and sisters, you are being Christ to one another and to a hurting world. Now, before you say “oh, that’s just what I do…it’s nothing special.” Yes it is. And here’s the thing, once the word of God gets a hold of you, it doesn’t really let go. When we talk about preparing the way of the Lord, perhaps the best thing we can do is prepare ourselves. We are worthy of God coming to us and using us (yes, little ol’ us) to help prepare the way of the Lord. As baptized people of God, we’re incredibly suited to go from the wilderness, to go from the farmland, to go from the city, or to go from a metropolis and share God’s love with the world through service to one another. The Lord is coming. Don’t think he won’t come to you.
“Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord, be strong take heart.”