57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
(Luke 1:57-80, ESV)
What does this mean, to prepare His ways? John the Baptist is the prep for Jesus, we get that, but what does it mean to prepare folks? I’ve put aside some emergency stuff for an earthquake. They call it a “go bag” with all the survival basics you might need in an emergency. I don’t have a lot of confidence that I’m all that prepared, but it’s something. Many years ago a friend of mine gave me a map to his house out in the woods, where he had buckets of submerged rice in liquid nitrogen and stores upon stores of dried foods – so we could eat for years when society finally collapses. He was seriously worried, and his fear had driven him into a survival mania. There’s a lot of that going around.
But that’s not in Zechariah, not here, not in this Holy Spirit filled prayer for his son John. No, this is a preparation for something grand, victorious, and beautiful. It’s an expectation for God to act, to work a miracle of salvation for us. This isn’t passive! This is an active engagement with God’s promises and preparing our lives for those promises to come true. We must live like this, for when we are hovering over our future with expectant joy, this prepares us and everyone around us for His coming. We all participate in John the Baptist’s ministry this way, and through us, the gospel is “adventing” into San Francisco and into everyone we know and love. There’s a glow and energy that expectation creates – something you see in a child’s eyes on Christmas Eve. Their excitement is electric with imagination. The presents under the tree won’t even match the delicious expectation that’s been building, and it infects everyone.
Our hopes are greater, and our gifts are more magical and wonderful than any present ever wrapped. If we live in this sort of joyous anticipation, it will affect everyone around us. It changes how you make decisions and what you think is valuable. It orients you toward all of the blessings of God. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Zechariah hopes for a lot for his little boy. He doesn’t know the suffering and death that his son will face. But this is where the promises really cash in. They aren’t defeated by death or persecution or danger or hate. Jesus has come to bring His peace, forgiveness, and victory. These promises aren’t defeated by death or crazy politicians or human destruction…but they also don’t even run from them! This is how the gospel “preps” us! We live in new joy by the Spirit, just like Zechariah does. Lord prepare us, and send us to prepare a way for You and Your blessing into the lives of everyone we know and love.