I remember the first time I saw the musical “Godspell.” John the Baptist made quite an entry. He was dressed almost like a clown and was carrying a bucket of water and splashing people with a sponge while singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” I can honestly say that I was stunned. It was not what I expected. In retrospect I’m sure that folk who came from Judea and Jerusalem to be baptized by John in the Jordan were even more stunned. By anyone’s standard, John is a different sort of guy. Yet despite his peculiarities, or perhaps because of them, we are told that God sent him (see yesterday’s lesson) to prepare the way of the Lord.
Isaiah 40 from which St. Mark quotes states, “A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3 NIV). I always liked the image of preparing a highway over which the Messiah would travel. The highway is to be straight and level. Every valley will be exalted and mountain and hill will be laid low. We probably know this more from listening to and singing Handel’s “Messiah,” than we do from reading Isaiah.
The British have a great word for someone who paves highways. That person would be called a “paviour.” If you wanted to make a good rhyme, John the Baptist was a paviour for the savior. We noted yesterday that John the Baptist is a model disciple for each of us. As paviours we too are to prepare the way of the Lord, paving a highway for his travel into the hearts of others.
Paving a highway is not an easy task, especially a level one. Nor is it always easy to pave highways into the lives of others. It takes a lot of ministry to find which valleys need to be filled, and which mountains and hills in their lives need to be laid low. In building an actual highway the way must be surveyed, marked, graded and paved (and numerous steps in-between). It takes planning, execution and actually getting dirty. As paviours for the savior, we are called to put on our hard hats and get dirty. We can always come back and rinse off in the Jordan.