I love volleyball. After the serve, each team has three touches to get the ball over the net to the opponent’s turf. At the competitive levels, the three touches have the same pattern: first, the reaction hit that simply gets the ball into the air after the other side sends it over. Then there’s the second touch: the set. This light touch is an easy-up that “sets” up the third touch: the spike, the light tap, or whatever play that will send the ball to an unprotected part of the opponent’s turf. The cycle repeats until one team misses.
So often we get stuck in the belief that we are the first or third touches. We really want to be the third touch: the one who gets things done, achieves a goal, has the final word. So often we are the first touches: the light tap to another, the quick response to the ball as it comes to us. I believe the most important touch is the second: the one who sets up what comes next. There’s incredible power in this role, but it comes from a place of humility, a knowledge that you aren’t going to be the one who scores a point.
In this passage, the long-awaited son of Zechariah and Elizabeth is born into a priestly family. Zechariah has been instructed by God to name the child John—not a family name. Zechariah, unable to speak since questioning the news of the birth, writes the name John—but John will not be a priest. He will be a prophet setting up the final touch for the one who will follow him: Jesus of Nazareth, soon to be born in Bethlehem.
John won’t score the point, but John will be the one who sets up the One who is to come.
Holy One, you come to us in unexpected ways. Guide us always to set up your possibilities to your preferred future. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The prophet Malachi speaks of a future day when God’s messenger will come to prepare the way for the Lord. The Lord will then purify the people and restore proper worship of God. Christians believe that John the Baptizer was this messenger, preparing the way for Christ. In Luke 1, the Holy Spirit fills Zechariah, John’s father, who proclaims that the fulfillment of God’s promises to their descendants has begun. Luke continues the story of John in chapter 3, describing John’s ministry of calling people to repentance. They need to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts, thus fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy. Paul in Philippians focuses not on the advent of Christ but on the ongoing power of Christ’s presence to make us blameless and righteous in God’s sight.
• Read Malachi 3:1-4. How have you experienced the refiner’s fire? What was your experience?
• Read Luke 1:68-79. At home and work, are you usually the first touch, the second touch, or the third touch? How so?
• Read Philippians 1:3-11. How could you make expressing your gratitude to others a habit?
• Read Luke 3:1-6. How are you preparing the way of the Lord? What crooked paths are you helping to make straight?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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