Sermon Ideas For Luke 3:1-6 Part 5
Scriptures achieve and sustain profound significance because of what they say and how they say it. Scriptures accomplish this through the use of imagery, symbols, and metaphors in myths, stories, and instructions. Imagery provides a visual portrayal of an event. It brings the reader and listener "right there." It generates immediate sensate contact between the event and the audience. Consider the following passages. In Exodus 14:21, we read, "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided." The Psalmist proclaims, "Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord" (99: 1113a). Images strike us and move us, but they do so at a kind of nonverbal or preverbal level-in our bones, if you will.
Symbols function differently. An author uses symbols as a means of conveying multiple levels of meaning simultaneously. Symbols precipitate, in addition to sensing and feeling, reflection, and further reflection. Consider the passage where Matthew records that "Then Jesus told his disciples, `If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me"' (Mt 16:24). The symbol of the cross functions on many levels. It is a physical object of considerable weight that must be carried. It is a structure built for capital punishment, upon which some people will be broken. But it is also a way of representing how everyone who goes by the name "Christian" must follow in Jesus' footsteps, suffer, and be reborn.
Metaphors bear a family resemblance to both images and symbols. Like images, they are often concrete. Like symbols, they work on more than one level. Unlike both of them, metaphors are devices that are used when an author recognizes that the fullness of meaning to be communicated lies beyond both the experience and the comprehension of the audience. A metaphor is a vehicle (to use a metaphor) through which an author can use something "known" to convey something "unknown,"something "familiar" (of the family) to convey something unfamiliar (foreign, strange, other). Paul writes to the church at Rome, "For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another" (Rom 12:45). Paul knew that his audience could not yet know the fullness of what it meant to be "church" except through a familiar metaphor of a body and its members.
With these ideas about imagery, symbols, and metaphors we might engage the Gospel message.
First, it's worth noting that Luke writes, "As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet, `The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."' In Isaiah the wording is slightly-but significantly-different: "A voice cries: `In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God."' It is in the place where we live-the wilderness-where change will occur. That is, we are "one crying in the wilderness."
Second, the change to be made is dramatic, indeed remarkable. It involves major alteration-indeed transformation-of our world. To convey this, the authors write about filling valleys, lowering mountains and hills, straightening the crooked, smoothing the rough. "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed" (Is 40:5a).
Early in elementary schooling every child learns that "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line." Not much later we all learn, regrettably, that such "shortest distances" exist only on paper. It's one thing to use a straightedge to draw a line; it's quite another to attempt to travel by a direct route (i.e., "as the crow flies"). Most roads accommodate the demands of the terrain, winding along rivers and around mountains. Even air travel is rarely so direct: one's course is adjusted to take into account current prevailing winds, avoid inclement weather and, perhaps most disruptively, cope with traffic by circling one's destination before actually landing.
What do the imagery, symbols, and metaphors in the passage convey? First, we have to prepare. Second, our preparation involves dramatic, concrete changes. Third, those changes are not only changes in the world but of the world. Finally, in contributing to these changes, we are like the "messenger who prepares the way" (Mal 3:1) who "will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people" (Lk 1:76b77a).
Chris R. Schlauch