Each September, ELCA congregations are invited to live their faith by serving others on “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday. Lutherans across this church gather donations, paint, clean, prepare meals and more. In essence, we’re responding to the gospel call to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Our acts of service flow from faith in the Coming One, Jesus, who will make possible that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6).
Salvation isn’t merely an eschatological or future reality, but one that starts now as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that the kingdom comes to us (Luke 11:2). Daily we are called to prepare the way of the Lord as John the Baptist did in his ministry.
In the historical context of Roman occupation and exploitation of Jewish people, John’s message, like Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56), expects and proclaims a turnaround—salvation from oppression and the realization of enduring justice now. As a forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way points to the One, who makes possible salvation, justice, peace, deliverance, forgiveness and communion with God and each other.
Writing on the Lord’s Prayer in his Small Catechism, Martin Luther says God’s reign will come, with or without our prayer.
Faith, John preaches, leads us to the neighbor in need. It’s no accident that Luke’s Gospel emphasizes social justice and includes the Magnificat, John’s sermon on ethical lives (Luke 3:10-14) and the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We may try to spiritualize all these verses, but the fact that they continue to inspire people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, women, migrants, refugees, those who are economically disadvantaged and other vulnerable groups to demand change is a testament to God’s determination to bring salvation and deliverance to all.
In this season of Advent, as we continue to crawl our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and try to make sense of all the divisions and mistrust that tears us apart as a nation, we can find hope and assurance that God’s reign of justice, peace, hope and love is present among us. Writing on the Lord’s Prayer in his Small Catechism, Martin Luther says God’s reign will come, with or without our prayer.
Nevertheless, we keep praying the Lord’s Prayer, trusting the church is not the Reign of God, but asking that it may be part of what God is doing among us. When the paths are straight, the valleys filled, the mountains and hills made low, the crooked made straight and the rough ways made smooth (Luke 3:5), I pray that we as the church, the body of Christ, have been an instrument of God to make these things possible.