"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace."
(Luke 1: 76-79)
These are the words that Zacharias said over his newborn son - after spending nine months unable to speak because he thought the angel Gabriel wasn't serious when the heavenly messenger said the older couple were going to have a child.
"Hello, little one! You've got a really big job ahead of you!" Happily, the baby didn't have to do it right away. He got to grow up to the job.
But for Advent, as part of the celebration, we are called to take on something of the mantle of John the Baptiser. We are called to prepare the way of the Lord. We are called to let people know what is coming.
It's so easy to get caught up in the fun of a holiday season, the pleasure of partying, of just being with people we like doing amsuing things. Do we, as believers, remember to acknowledge why we do it? I admit, I don't, not always.
And what is it again that is coming?
A light so bright it is sunshine from the highest point of the sky. A light that can reach those who sit in the darkest corners, who sit in the shadow of death.
When things are going badly in life, we feel that darkness has fallen on us. When we are scared, alarmed, anxious, we can't see beyond the immediate stuff that is disturbing or hurting us. Everything seems black around us, without hope. And that's a scary place to be. For some people, it is so terrible they cannot stand it. For some people, they do not see any spot of light that would give them hope. They are so far into the shadow of death, that they will run the rest of the way just to have an end of the anxiety and fear. It is heartbreaking to know of those who are so overwhelmed with fear that they cannot find any hope. Just this week, the brother of a friend took that route - he was swept away by fears of what might happen, and he was lost in the shadow of death.
That is why "preparing the way of the Lord" is important. It's not just an extension of "happy time" as a run-in to a major holiday.
We are lighting the candles to show those who sit in darkness that there is indeed a pathway out of that shadow. That the path goes somewhere better than dispair and loss. And that the one who is coming, who will walk down that pathway to meet them where they are brings so much light that the lost one will feel daylight and warmth - and at long last peace.
Jesus told his followers that we are the Light of the World. We need to remember how precious and important even our small lights can be to those who feel lost and trapped in darkness. There is a purpose for us to fulfill.
Prepare the way of the Lord.