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[John] 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 Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying 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 become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
7 He said therefore 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 in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Luke 3:3-9 [ESV]
It was an impressive scene. Our relatively little church had produced a major Christmas cantata. We borrowed costumes from a large local church that put on semi-professional productions. We encouraged all sorts of people to participate. We enlisted musicians, actors, tech crew members, ushers, and publicists. And it was a wonderful night. Still firmly in my memory is the scene in which the wise men come to visit the child Jesus.
Here the cantata production diverged from the facts, but not the underlying realities. There were three (though the Bible does not specify the number) kings (and the magi were not kings). Magi often validated the selection of kings, but they were not kings. And Jesus was most likely 2 years old by the time the magi visited. Having said all that, here is the scene.
Three men dressed in royal robes, crowns and long trains walked in with their gifts and knelt at the manger. One of the king’s trains was at least 30 feet long. Royal red. Gold trim. Velvet. Magnificent! And he bowed at the manger in which the baby Jesus had been laid.
I know that powerful people, be they kings, princess, presidents, or prime ministers are no more important than beggars, factory workers, blue collar workers, or common laborers. But seeing that “king” kneel before Jesus was a powerful moment. King of kings Jesus truly was!
John is the one sent by God to raise the valleys and lower the mountains. He exalts the lowly and brings down those in high places. Jesus is the great leveler. No one has an exclusive hold on his grace and love.
Sometimes we need to be taken down a notch or two. We may be too puffed-up for our own good, and certainly for the good of others. Other times we may need a word of grace, hope, encouragement, and affirmation. Jesus provides that. Whether it is the form of Jesus calling the Jews whitewashed tombs, or telling Zacchaeus he must go to his house (even before Zacchaeus repented!), that’s what Jesus does. And John is paving the way for Jesus’ ministry. He did that so that people would see the salvation of God. And we see that best on the level ground at the foot of Jesus’ cross.