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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Levelling mountains and raising valleys

This was my reflection for the lunchtime Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields today:

“All who heard … said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.” (Luke 1. 57 - 66)

“What then will this child become?” The answer to that question is given us in the reading from Malachi 3. 1 - 4. The child born to Zechariah and Elizabeth would be the messenger who would prepare the way before the Lord, the Messiah who would suddenly (unexpectedly) come to his temple.

As the messenger preparing the way for the coming of the Lord, John the Baptist preached: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 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; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The ministry of John the Baptist is described then as being like a major road building programme. This road is one that requires mountains to be levelled and valleys raised in order that it can run as straight and smooth as possible.

The purpose of this road building project – in other words, the purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry – is that Jesus, God’s salvation, should be plainly seen walking down the road towards us. Everyone is able to see him because there is nothing to block our view; no mountains blocking our vision of Jesus and no valleys from within which we are unable to look out. The purpose of John’s ministry then is that everyone should see Jesus clearly.

So it is worth asking, what are the mountains in our lives that could prevent us from seeing Jesus? John’s ministry was a call to repentance, turning away from all that is wrong in our lives in order to turn to Jesus. In the Malachi reading this is described using the imagery of refining and cleaning. The mountains that need to be torn down are the sins that we cling onto, those things that we struggle to renounce or leave behind and which therefore stand in our lives in the place where only God should be; the centre. When we put something or someone at the centre of our lives then that thing or person becomes a barrier which prevents us from seeing God. What might these things be in our lives? Well, that is for us to decide, but, in Church history, people have sometimes talked in terms of the seven deadly sins; of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

When we are in a valley we are low down, in a depression, and can’t see a way out; so can’t see God. Here we are not talking about sins which block our view of God, instead we are talking about fears, anxieties, hurts and depressions which bring us down so that we cannot look up and out and see God. What are the fears, anxieties, hurts and depressions in our lives at present? If we want to see God more clearly then we need to be raised up so that we are no longer looking at life from the depths of a depression.

John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is the construction project for our lives which enables us to see and receive God’s salvation in Jesus. As we turn away from the mountains of sin and the valleys of depression, we turn towards Jesus who stands ever ready to receive us with open arms.


Sarah McLachlan - O Little Town Of Bethlehem.

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