So, have you been asked THE Question? At this time of year, conversations usually turn to THE Question, “So, are you ready for Christmas?” That’s code for “how well have you checked off the Christmas TO Do list?”
Some call this the season of giving. But really, it’s the season of DOING. Have you put up lights? Have you decorated a tree? Have you done the shopping, the cooking, the baking the Christmas card making? The clock is ticking you know. Two weeks and then the big event is here. So, are you READY?
If we aren’t careful, this time of year can fill us with anxiety and guilt instead of peace and hope. And if that’s the case Christian, you are missing the purpose of Advent. Advent is a time when we prepare for Jesus coming. So, for a few moments this morning relax. Put aside the to-do list. Because today, John the Baptizer will remind us that a front yard full of lights, a decorated tree or a checked off shopping list doesn’t mean you’re really prepared for Christmas. That’s because preparing for Christmas it’s really about outward things like decorations and window dressing. True preparation for Christmas is a matter of the heart.
So, our theme for today is the question, Are you REALLY ready for Christmas? Let’s hear what John has to say about preparing for Jesus coming.
The Gospel lesson has us step back in time. Imagine hundreds, even thousands of years. Back before TV, cell phones, or E-mail. I know it’s hard for some of you to do that. Back to a time when the world was rules by kings and emperors. A time when information was passed along by a herald – or a messenger who would announce the news.
Mark’s Gospel begins with that picture. God had important news to share with His people. He hand-picked a messenger who would announce that God would send a special King to rescue His people. 1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
John’s ministry was that of a herald. To point people to the one who would come after him. Prepare yourselves! The King – God’s promised Messiah is coming!
Typically, when heralds came to town to announce, “the king is coming – prepare to meet him!” – that might fill a town or village into a whirl of activity. All of a sudden things that had been allowed to get a bit run down, started getting attention. The pothole that had lived on Main Street for months, got fixed. The front yard fence that was broken got fixed. Royalty was coming. And a king is one to make a fuss over.
The announcement that “the king is coming!” basically meant, “shape up! Prepare! Let him find you ready!” Because kings like to be impressed by their subjects. If the king doesn’t find you following orders – that could mean trouble for you and your town. So when a herald came to town, they got people’s attention – and there was a reaction.
John the Baptizer had a way of getting people’s attention too. God had patiently waited until the time was right to send His Promised King. Peter reminded us in the second lesson that some had grown tired of waiting. They thought this King would never come. They had grown impatient and stopped looking for him. So John’s coming came as a shock. All of a sudden – a throwback appears. To us it would be like see a wild west cowboy ride into town on his horse. A person out of place and seeming plucked from a different time. That was John – a throwback to Israel’s prophets of old. Looking and sounding and acting like Elijah of old. He got people’s attention. And they heard his message, “Prepare – God’s promised King is coming!”
But how does one become fit for God’s promised King? John shows that this is a matter of the heart.
4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
John’s first step in preparing hearts for King Jesus was to show people how woefully unprepared they were to meet him. The pot holes of sin needed to be filled in. The broken aspects of lives needed to be repaired.
How much of life is spent ignoring? Pretending? When people ask how you are, isn’t the initial reaction “I’m fine…” But we are far from fine. We are broken. And we don’t want anyone to know it. Sometimes we even try to hide it from ourselves. But pretending and ignoring doesn’t make it better or make it go away.
Our brokenness shows itself in a variety of ways. There are cracks in our contentment. There is jealousy over “those people” who seem to have it better than us, especially at this time of year. There is anger over not having things our way. And if God really cared He’d do something about making life turn out more my way.
Brokenness – it leads to disappointment - even with God. Because after all, if we could have it our way – we’d make ourselves king instead of having to bow down to God as King.
All this proves what a mess we are – and should fill us with FEAR. We hope the King never finds out we think this way. If He knew our lives and thoughts, we’d be in trouble. We aren’t ready for Him.
But John came to announce, “He knows!” BUT - confess and repent of your brokenness and God will heal you. God’s King is coming to fix what is broken. God’s King will restore what is damaged. God’s King is coming to rescue you – trust in Him.
Those who trusted in God’s promise and forgiveness were baptized by John. This was assurance that all their sins had been cleansed away. God’s Word changed lives. God’s forgiveness offered peace and hope.
So, are you prepared for Christmas? Really prepared? John shows us that preparing for Christmas really doesn’t end with shopping lists, or trees or twinkling lights? Those are fine traditions. But being really prepared for Christmas is more a matter of the heart.
Do yourself a favor and step away from the frenzy of the season for a time and reflect. As I scan my life, what needs repair? What concerns me? What is utterly broken? And maybe even more humbling – what am I unable to repair?
Ask, “How can I go through a week, a day, and not crave God’s Word?” “How come I’m aware of problems in my life – but I fail to take them to my God in prayer?” “What’s wrong with me that I’m trying to life on my own instead of with the help that only God can provide.”
What do I need to repent of? What brokenness do I need to confess?
John teaches us that to prepare for Christ’s coming is to see our great need for Him. God comes to rescue – do you see how much you need rescuing? God comes to fix – are you aware of how broken you are? God comes to forgive – do you see how much you need it?
This is the message of Advent. Be at peace! Be filled with Hope! Your King comes to make everything OK. You can be free from fear and worry! The King is coming to rescue you!
6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John had a way of getting people’s attention. But he was also careful to point people to where their source of help truly lies. The one I herald, the King who is coming – that is powerful one!
The crowd John preached too had to wait in expectation for that King to arrive. We are privileged to know that King has already come – and will come again. But while we wait for that final coming on Judgement Day, we too wait in expectation. That King who came, still comes – right here and now through His Word and Sacrament. And He never tires of coming with the gifts He won for us. He constantly doles out help for our hurts, forgiveness for our sins, guidance for our lost lives, and the promise that He will safely guide us home to heaven.
That is the blessing of your baptism. The rescue you need, God has given. You are his dearly loved, fully forgiven child!
Children of God as you prepare your hearts for Christmas, learn from John. He teaches us God’s King is coming because we desperately need Him. Our hearts are broken, so God comes to mend. Our hearts are trapped in sin, so He comes to rescue. This fills us with anticipation and peace – as we see the depth of God’s love for us.
Are you ready for Christmas? I’m not. The tree isn’t up yet. There is plenty to do and plenty to prepare. But YES – I am ready. Because I long for the deliverance that only God can bring. My heart says, “Come Lord Jesus!” And that cry for help makes us prepared! Amen.