As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
There are four books in the Old Testament which are called the Major Prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. There are twelve books of minor prophets—Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. All of these prophets gave their messages of hope hundreds of years before Christ came. The purpose of the prophets was to give hope to the people of Israel, specifically in the years when the Kingdom of Israel fell into the hands of the Babylonians. The prophets foretold of the coming Messiah and reassured the people that God had not forgotten them. However, for nearly 350 years before the Incarnation of Christ, there were no prophets. It was as if God was silent. Three hundred and fifty years is a long time—that’s longer than the United States has been in existence. If a generation is 25 years, that’s 14 generations of people who were waiting, almost in silence.
John the Baptist was born and six months later Christ became incarnate. The childhood of Christ was fairly anonymous. We don’t read much about it, other than an encounter in the temple with the Jewish leaders when He was twelve. We also don’t read much about the childhood of John the Baptist. John knew his role. We are told that when Elizabeth (his mother) was pregnant, the Virgin Mary came to visit, and she was also pregnant. Elizabeth told Mary (they were cousins) that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. John recognized Jesus, His cousin (and his purpose) while Jesus was still in Mary’s womb.
Luke 3:1-2 gives a timeline in history—fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea, Herod is tetrarch of Galilee, Herod’s brother Philip is the tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, Lysanias is tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas are the high priests. This is intentional. Because Jesus did not do His earthly ministry “at some point,” but at a defined, known point in history. All of these rulers are accepted in the history of humanity, whether one is Christian or not. It was at this time, that the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3:2) And this “activated” a “chain reaction” of events. John sprung into action and started telling people that they were about to see the Messiah. Those 350 years of silence were about to end.
Luke 3:4-6 is a direct quote from Isaiah, foretelling the Forerunner, who would announce the presence of the Christ in the world. John was basically saying that this prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled in his person, and shortly thereafter, the other prophecies would be fulfill in the person of Jesus Christ. These verses are bold and empowering. Imagine the people being despondent from the apparent silence of God now being awakened in this powerful way. The chaos of life was about to be brought to order.
Every valley shall be filled—Those in sadness will now get relief, joy and renewal.
Every mountain and hill shall be made low—Those who have exalted themselves shall be humbled.
The crooked shall be made straight—Where there is chaos, now there will be order.
The rough ways shall be made smooth—The anxiety of the people, especially over the silence and perceived lack of progress/persecution/lack of hope will now be smoothed out so that there will be hope.
All flesh shall see the salvation of God—That goes for Jews and Gentiles, for those who have believed and those who have never heard the message. Everyone will see the salvation of God, though not all will experience salvation. Everyone will be able to see the works of the Messiah and hear His words, but not all will believe.
In response to John’s preaching, people were curious what to do. He told the people to “Bear fruits that befit repentance” (Luke 3:8) and that “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” (Luke 3:11) He told tax collectors to “Collect no more than is appointed you.” (Luke 3:12) And he told soldiers “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:14)
Most of all, he told the people that that he was baptizing with water, but one mightier was coming after and He (the Messiah) will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He wanted the people to be prepared.
In the world today, it seems that we have a lot of parallels in the world of 2,000 years ago. God’s voice seems silent in many corners. We wait in expectation for something greater. There seems to be a great deal of sadness and disorder. The words of John the Baptist are like a voice of one crying in the wilderness, to prepare the way of the Lord. In many instances it feels like Christians are isolated and in a wilderness where it is stressful and scary. However, the words of John the Baptist also provide comfort—they assure us that those of us in deep valleys can still be filled, that rough ways can be made smooth, and that all flesh, including each of us, shall see the salvation of God. The choice is whether to participate in it. The plan for salvation is active all around us. There are stars to guide the way—the question is are we following them, and do we want to follow them. I see today’s verses as empowering versus, versus of comfort but also a call to action—to straighten up crooked ways, to smooth out our rough edges, to stay humble if we are too high, and to remain confident if we feel low, and then look with joy to see the salvation of God, seen in this life, and then for those He deems worthy, to be experienced for eternal life.
Come, let us rejoice in the Lord, as we tell about this mystery. The middle wall of separation has been broken down; the fiery sword has turned back, the Cherubim permits access to the tree of life; and I partake of the delight of Paradise, from which I was cast out because of disobedience. For the exact Image of the Father, the express Image of his eternity, takes the form of a servant, coming forth from a virgin Mother; and He undergoes no change. He remained what He was, true God; and He took up what he was not, becoming human in His love for humanity. Let us cry out to Him: “You who were born from a Virgin, O God, have mercy on us.” (Kekragaria, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: How did John the Baptist prepare people for the coming of Jesus?