December 6, 2012

Preparing the Way

           Recently President Obama visited Burma (Myanmar) for the first time.  It was an historic occasion, but it did not occur without a messenger preparing the way.  A few months earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spent time there, making sure that all was in order for this unprecedented occasion of state.  Never before had a sitting President been to this isolated country, wedged between India on the west, China on the north, and Thailand to the east.  Our friends in that land welcomed his visit as a sign of hope for their future.
            The texts for the second Sunday of Advent highlight the role of the messenger who prepares for the coming Messiah.  The reading from Malachi, the concluding book of the Twelve Prophets as well as the Hebrew Bible, portrays the coming of a great king, for whom a messenger is needed to prepare the royal processional way as he comes to the temple.  Only later in a canonical reading is this text an allusion to the work of John the Baptist.
            Two readings from Luke comprise the Gospel lessons for Sunday.  The first, Luke 1:68-79, is known as the Benedictus.  Zechariah offers blessing for John (later known as the Baptizer), and he describes the remarkable role of his son in going before the Lord “to prepare the way for him” (v. 76b).  As a gifted storyteller, Luke intertwines the birth narratives of these cousins and narrates their respective roles.  The role of the messenger, while lesser than the one he prepares for, has dignity because it is integral to the forthcoming message.
            The second reading situates historically and geographically the beginning of the ministry of John, who “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins . . . “ (3:3).  His work in a remote corner of Judea sets in motion the holy purpose that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (v. 6).  Of the work of his forerunner Jesus says, “among those born of women none is greater than John . . . “ (7:8).  Yet, the one who is “least in the reign of God is greater than he,” because of what he announced as messenger.
            On Saturday, the first cohort of create students will celebrate the completion of their degrees.  Although they participated in the commencement service this past May in order to demonstrate the good work of the Luce grant, they had yet to complete a capstone project. So now, finally, they will hold their diplomas!
The commencement speaker proclaimed the significance of “setting out in the season of the empty tomb.”  In this liturgical season, we will reflect on what it means set out in the “season of the Coming One.” I believe it will require that they understand their roles as messengers; persons who understand that they “must decrease” in order that Christ “might increase.”  Preparing the way for others to receive the Christ grants their ministries the highest dignity.
            Through their participation in a global immersion experience in Myanmar, these students know that Christ has come to transform culture.  They also know that journeying together strengthens faithful witness.

            Molly T. Marshall

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