A traditional way of understanding the weeks of Advent is to designate the second as the “Prepare the Way” week. This is often associated with John the Baptist (or Baptizer). John is closely associated with the infancy stories of Jesus in Luke, with certain parallels and connections in their births.
Both are the result of a miraculous conception. John’s mother, Elizabeth, is too old for normal pregnancy (presumably past menopause in our categories). Mary, Jesus’ mother, becomes pregnant without a man’s participation, a complete miracle.
Both have fathers who don’t quite understand what it going on. Zechariah, John’s father, is visited by an angel to announce the coming birth of his son, but his first move is to doubt. The result is that he is caused to be unable to speak until the boy is born. Joseph, Mary’s husband, somehow manages to take his young wife on an arduous journey to Bethlehem in the final stages of her pregnancy. When they arrive, we learn that Joseph has made no arrangements, and Jesus is born in a stable, causing his mother to improvise and use an animal feed trough as his baby bed.
The birth of both boys is accompanied by words of prophecy. Zechariah delivers the famous “Benedictus,” a prophetic word concerning the future of his son. The baby Jesus is greeted in the temple by the aged Simeon, who delivers his prophetic word, traditionally called the “Nunc Dimittas.” Both words are also recognitions of the fulfillment of prophecies that each boy represents. Simeon sees Jesus as the “light to the nations,” a fulfillment of Isaiah 9:2 (and other Scriptures):
The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
But what are we to make of the ministry of the Baptizer? He is pictured in the Gospels as one who “prepares the way of the Lord.” Luke sees him as a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-5:
A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’
The imagery is profound, a construction crew making the path to a village into a road fit for a royal entrance. The twists and turns of the path are eliminated. The ups and downs of the little roadway are leveled. In general, “the rough ways are made smooth.” This is so that the crowd can gather and “all people will be able to see God’s salvation” as he enters the city.
And that is a ministry still worth celebrating during Advent. We have the opportunity to prepare our hearts. To take out the crookedness. To knock down the hills of pride. To lift up the valleys of depression. To make a broad, smooth, all-weather road so that the King of Glory can access our innermost being. Don’t lose this part of Christmas. Don’t let the excitement, the busyness, the traditions, the commercialism, and the fun of the Christmas cause you to leave your hearts unprepared.
Peter Cornelius expressed it this way in the last verse of his poem, “The Three Kings”
Thou child of man, lo, to Bethlehem
The Kings are traveling, travel with them!
The star of mercy, the star of grace,
Shall lead thy heart to its resting place.
Gold, incense, myrrh thou canst not bring;
Offer thy heart to the infant King.
Offer thy heart!
Yes, let us offer our hearts!
Nebraska Christian College