You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:14-17)
Constantly speak the truth
How does one “make ready a people prepared for the Lord”?
Much of my own ministry has to do with teaching the basis, what the Church calls “catechesis.”
From my “Episcopal 101” class for adults on Sunday mornings, to the Education for Ministry group I mentor on Sunday afternoons, to this blog and the teaching I do about the Daily Office, I spend a lot of time helping people use the resources of the Christian tradition.
Many members of my parish are devoted to small group ministry and the ongoing relationships of accountability that help nurture disciples.
How do you help prepare people for the Lord? What does that mean to you?
Boldly rebuke vice
John has some very sharp words for those who come to see him preaching and baptizing at the River Jordan:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance …. And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ (Luke 3:7-8, 10-14)
Share your coat — I must have at least six coats that I no longer wear. Why are they still hanging in my closet? Who else needs a coat?
Share your food — While my wife and I regularly host parties and invite people into our home, I don’t make a habit of helping at the meal program hosted by my parish each week. Who else needs a meal?
Live within your means — I’m finally doing better at this, partly out of necessity but also partly because of my own recovery. Buying things fulfills the same kind of craving that other substances do, so I’m working daily to watch my spending. Who else could I help if I stop helping myself?
Don’t rob anyone — This one is harder, because it’s not as simple as saying “don’t steal.” I’m beginning to read Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which starts with the reminder that we all belong to each other and to the one creation. Nothing is in fact ours alone. Who else could use a drink of water or clean air to breathe?
John spent some time in prison before he died, and he wasn’t entirely sure if it was worth it.
John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ (Luke 7:18-23)
Whether he was “offended” by Jesus or not, John was patient in his imprisonment, even to the point of speaking with his captor on several occasions before his beheading.
“Herod feared John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him [from Herodias]. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20-21)
What frustrating situation in your life are you struggling with right now? Who might you speak kindly to, even when things aren’t going your way?
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.