“Shine Your Light”
Luke 3: 1-18
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” 7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 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.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
“A Home for All” is the theme our passage this morning. The passage is about John the Baptist, and I like to think that he is speaking to us today, really preparing the way, our way, everybody’s way to find their home. It’s quite lovely to think that there is a place for all of us to call home. Isn’t it? What does it mean to be home? We’re not that far passed the holidays when many of us were home with family and friends…we know what it means to be home, to be safe, to be cared for, to be accepted for who we are even with all our flaws and imperfections. What does it mean that we are called to prepare the way for others to find their home? “Prepare the Way for the Lord,” are the words crying out from the wilderness.
You might remember we talked about what it meant to “prepare the way” in those ancient days but I think a quick review would be helpful. The peasants literally did “prepare the way for royalty coming into town” by filling in the ravines and gullies, removing large stones and hauling dirt to fill the low places in the road so to make the path even. This preparing the way would take place every time someone special was coming to town. The result of this physical landscaping work would be that the royal person would have a smooth ride. John used this literal interpretation that he knew the people would understand about preparing the way to help his followers make this transition. To understand what it meant for them to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. This was a gigantic change of perspective for Jews hearing John speak these words. Why it is so gigantic is that the Jews based their future security on their lineage, their connection to Abraham. John is clear, they do not get a free pass, but rather what they do right here and now is what counts. John is preparing them to receive the One who will save them and also the One who will make a home for them where all are welcome.
John helps the people to see that preparing the way of the Lord really has to do with the state of their hearts, the state of their hearts which reflects their ability to be a servant to others. John uses concrete examples to help them see this what a heart of a servant means, he says whoever has two coats share one coat, for tax collectors, collect no more than is due to you, do not extort money and be satisfied with your wages. Can you see how this leads to making a home for others?
So, what does “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” mean for you and me? I think this passage has often been misinterpreted to think we are called to “save” people. Tell them about our faith, and the rest we leave up to God. But does simply sharing our faith make a home for others? I just read an article in “Faith in Focus” by Father Greg Boyle titled: “I thought I could “save” gang members. I was wrong.” Hear Father Boyle’s story:
In my 30 years of ministry to gang members in Los Angeles, the most significant reversal of course for me happened somewhere during my sixth year. I had mistakenly tried to “save” young men and women trapped in gang life. But then, in an instant, I learned that saving lives is for the Coast Guard. Me wanting a gang member to have a different life would never be the same as that gang member wanting to have one. I discovered that you do not go to the margins to rescue anyone. But if we go there, everyone finds rescue.
Louie was 19 years old, a gang member making money hand over fist by running up to cars and selling crack cocaine. He quickly became his own best customer. After my many attempts to get him into rehab, he finally agreed to check himself in. He was there one month when his younger brother Erick did something gang members never do. He put a gun to his temple and killed himself. Gang members are much more inclined to walk into enemy turf and hope to die than to pull the trigger themselves.
I called Louie and told him what happened. He was crestfallen. “I will pick you up for the funeral,” I said, “but I’m driving you right back.” I just want to stop here for a minute and say, sure he was thinking Louie wasn’t going to go back to rehab…that the pattern of one rehab stay after another will just continue with no actual change. But then Louie said, But “I want to come back,” he said through his tears. “I like how recovery feels.”
Greg continues his story, When I arrive at the rehab center, Louie greeted me with an embrace, and once in the car, he launches in. “I had a dream last night—and you were in it.” In the dream, he tells me, the two of us are in a darkened room. No lights whatsoever. No illuminated exit signs. No light creeping from under the door. Total darkness. We are not speaking, but he knows I am in the room with him. Then, silently, I pull a flashlight from my pocket and aim steadily on the light switch across the room. Louie tells me that he knows that only he can turn the light switch on. He expresses his gratitude that I happen to have a flashlight. Then with great trepidation, Louie moves slowly toward the light switch, following closely the guiding beam of light. He takes a deep breath, flips the switch on, and the room is flooded with light. As he tells me this, he begins sobbing. “And the light,” he says, “is better than the darkness.” As though he had not known this was the case.
Father Greg goes on to say, “We cannot turn the light switch on for anyone. But we all own flashlights. With any luck, on any given day, we know where to aim them for each other. We do not rescue anyone at the margins. But go figure, if we stand at the margins, we are all rescued. No mistake about it.” That’s a powerful story, isn’t it?
Shining your light is about preparing the way! John’s words are still true for us today, giving out of our abundance, sharing what we have with those in need…our outreach ministries, all the ways we touch individual lives certainly are ways that we are shining our light. Louie’s heart changed when he discovered that he could make his own choices to let the light into his life…but first he had to believe he was worth it. Father Greg, he did this for him, he let Louie know that he was loved, that he was important, that he was valuable…that is what shining your light is all about. Preparing the way is preparing someone else’s heart to finally feel at home. Really that is what Christ does for us, helps us find our home, helps us find our home in Him! Shine your light my friends, so others can find their own light switch. Amen