Commentary by Walter Albritton


December 14


God’s People Are Always Preparing the Way, as John Did for Jesus


Luke 1:5-80


Key Verse: You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways. – Luke 1:76


            Good News! God still needs people like John to prepare the way for others, even as John prepared the way for our Lord Jesus!

            Look at the biblical process. Eli prepared the way for Samuel. Zechariah prepared the way for John. Both Samuel and Zechariah became Nazirites so they did not need much money for razors or shaving cream. They both became prophets, dedicated to proclaiming God’s truth to the people. John prepared the way for Jesus even as Samuel had done so for King David.

            How did John come to understand his destiny? Surely his father Zechariah talk him this from his youth. John was fortunate to have parents who inspired him to believe that God had a plan for his life; at the right time he would draw open the curtains so that Jesus could take center stage.

            Though John was an unusual man who attracted attention, he understood that his personal mission was to promote Jesus, not himself. He humbly acknowledged his own unworthiness while pointing out the greatness of Jesus. Evidently he harbored no resentment that his role was secondary to that of Jesus. His job was to point to Jesus, and point to him he did!

            Every church needs people like John, people who can embrace a vision of the future and help others to believe in it. Some people are given the gift to catch visions, but they never succeed well without other people who become vision casters. The vision casters are used by the Spirit to overcome negative thinking so that a congregation can embrace a vision of God’s mission and throw their resources behind it.

            Visionary leaders can help a church discover God’s mission for it. Once it is shared and understood, other people can help cast the vision and encourage people to embrace it so the church can move forward in strength. In a dramatic moment in his life, the great missionary David Livingstone said, “I am ready to go in any direction – so long as it is forward!” A congregation can come alive when it is infected with such a spirit.

            As partners with God, there are many things we can do to prepare the way for the servants of God who will come behind us. In his retirement, Fred Thomas did not use his money to build a spacious home for his wife and himself.

            Instead, he invested in the lives of young men and young women, helping many to secure an excellent education. He was a generous supporter of several missionaries and others in Christian ministries.  In beautiful ways, with no fanfare, Fred used his checkbook to prepare the way for many others to serve the Lord. Though Fred will not be elected to any Hall of Fame, his name is precious to many servants of Christ who will never forget his generosity.

            There are moments when I feel like falling on my knees to thank God for the many caring people who encouraged me in my college and seminary days. They helped me to cling to the faith that God had a purpose for my life. Somehow, each one was in the right place, at the right time, to open doors for me as I prepared myself to serve the Lord.

            I think of John Keith Benton, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School when I was a student there. One day I responded to a note he had sent me to come to his office. I thought I might be in trouble. Instead, he lovingly asked how I was, chatted for a few minutes, and gave me an envelope as I departed.

            Outside his office, I found a twenty-dollar bill in the envelope. It was all the money my wife and I had that week.  Now I cherish the memory of this gentle scholar who delighted in helping prepare the way for struggling young seminary students.

            I think of my friend Charles Whittle, who opened many doors for me. Charles has opened more doors for more servants of God than any man I know. Centuries later, Charles is a John the Baptist, pulling back the curtains so that others take the stage to serve our Lord. 

            In all our churches there are children and youth who can be encouraged to seek God’s will for their lives. Even if we cannot offer them financial assistance, we can offer them our support to pursue vocations in which they can serve Christ first.

            When asked to describe his purpose in life, a friend of mine replied, “My main life purpose is serving my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a Christian forester and being a faithful husband to my wife.” What a blessing to know that this man has been teaching boys and girls in Sunday School for many years! By his example, and his teaching, he is living as a forerunner for those who are preparing for Christian service.

            Great things can happen if and when we are willing to “get out of the way” and allow God to us what we can offer. Getting out of the way is to put aside our own need for fame and glory, and humbly serve God backstage, out of the spotlight. John had no need to “build a kingdom for himself.” He was content to prepare the way for one greater than himself, one who would usher in an eternal Kingdom.

            As a pastor who served many different churches in my career, I realize that in every situation I benefited from those who had gone before me. I stood on the shoulders of others for I was indebted to men and women who had prepared the way for me. As my friend Bill Carter says, “What went before makes possible what is happening now.” No pastor is more foolish than the one who is blind to the debt he owes to the former pastors of the church he now serves.

            May we allow the Spirit to open our eyes to see the quiet and unassuming ways we can prepare the way for those who will serve God in the future! Samuel did. John did. We can also.

            It seems like right now I can hear a song I have sung many times in church. Can you hear it? It has a haunting phrase, “If I can help somebody….”

            I can. You can. We all can. Let’s do it!

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