Once upon a time, in an ancient and far away country, when there were no cities, and no towns, only small tribes and caravans of people living on the land, wandering from place to place looking for vegetation for their sheep and goats to eat, there was a mountain top.
Whenever people climbed to the top of this mountain they felt the presence of God, who would tell them to always love the One God who cares for you and loves you always, and always care for one another, especially the others, those who are poor, have no families, widows, orphans, resident aliens and strangers.
And the people would leave the mountain top and remember to care for others the way God cared for them.
Throughout the years people would come and go from the top of the mountain and return with the message God had given them- to love the God who loves them, and to care for one another, especially others beyond the tribe.
And when the people came back from the mountain, many placed a stone there for remembrance. In fact, many who came but had not heard God themselves also left a stone to commemorate the remarkable events and stories which they had heard about those who did.
Each placed a stone as a token, and many placed the stones together, one building upon the other, until soon a magnificent Cathedral covered the mountain top where God's presence could be found and heard.
People would come to the Cathedral, and entering they would know that something important was there, and they would pay their respects, praise the name of God and ask favors of many kinds. And each one would leave a stone.
Over the years, as more and more people came and left more stones one atop the other, a great city was built around the Cathedral on the mountain, with long, winding, narrow streets, lined with homes and shops, fountains and plazas. People coming to the mountain would need to stop and ask the way to the Cathedral so as not to get lost in the back streets of the city. And each one would leave a stone.
As the years continued to roll by, and the people continued to come and leave stones, a great wall with majestic gates was built around the city. People coming to the mountain would have to find a gate they would be allowed to enter. Sometimes the gates would be open, and sometimes the gates would be closed.
For many, even in the city, the top of the mountain became difficult to find, now that it had been covered by so many many stones. The gates were crowded, the streets were crowded, winding and narrow, there was so much noise and activity both inside and all around the gates of the city that no one could hear the directions to find their way to the top of the mountain where God's presence would remind them to love the God who always loves them and to care for one another, especially the others beyond the walls of the city.
Far, far away, in a lonely and barren wilderness beyond the gates of the city, was a man. A voice, crying in the wilderness. Above the crowded streets, beyond the crowded gates, above the top of the cathedral towers, the voice could be heard. Some people, discouraged at no longer being able to find the top of the mountain could hear his voice, so loud and lonely and lovely was the cry from the wilderness.
First one, then another went beyond the gates of the city and followed the sound of that voice. They could hear it floating on the winds, they could hear it like music in the sky.
As they came upon the man lonely in the wilderness, they could make out his cry: "Prepare, prepare, prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his roadways, make straight his paths. Prepare, prepare, prepare the way of the Lord!"
Over time, more and more people came out of the city and into the wilderness, following the voice carried on the wind, until everyone, all the inhabitants inside and outside the gates of the city were there with the man lonely in the wilderness.
And the people joined in his cry, "Prepare, prepare, prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his roadways, make straight his paths. Prepare, prepare, prepare the way of the Lord!"
So that more and more people everywhere could hear the voices of many being carried on the winds to the four corners of heaven and earth.
Then the man lonely in the wilderness led them to the banks of a river, and invited them to all bathe in the waters of the river. And as they bathed in the waters of the river, he said to them, "Remember, remember, remember. Our God also speaks to us in the life of the waters of this river. Remember, remember what he has said: love the One God who cares for you and loves you always, and always care for one another, especially the others, those who are poor, have no families, widows, orphans, resident aliens and strangers. Remember, remember, remember!"
"And, oh yes! Another one is coming who will show us all the way back to the top of the mountain. Yes, you will remember, remember, remember today, but soon he will show us that to find our way back into the Cathedral, we have nowhere to look and nowhere to go. He will tell us that the Cathedral and the top of the mountain is here, in the midst of us, wherever we are as a community of his people. Together. All of us. Including the others beyond the community. Especially the others. Here in our midst, wherever we are, God's presence, God's voice, God's message does dwell, God is with us and in us, Immanuel. Remember, remember, remember today, but the one who shall come will show us the Way."
And so it was, the beginning of our story. And so it is today.
When you listen far above the crowds and noise, a voice can still be heard floating on the winds, a voice so loud and lonely and lovely, a cry from the wilderness beyond the gates of the city, above the tops of the highest cathedral, calling to us, "Prepare, prepare, prepare the way of the Lord. Every valley shall be lifted, every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Remember, remember, remember today, but the one who shall come will show us the Way