Malachi 3:1-4, Matthew 3:1-6
December 9. 2012
The last thing I need to remind you of today is that Advent is “A Season of Preparation!” That’s all it ever seems to be! Right? Think about everything we’re doing at this time of year. We’re planning events. We’re buying presents. We’re putting up decorations in our Church, in our homes, and on our lawns. And someone, I’m not saying who, but someone in this room actually has reindeer antlers on their car! (And a red nose!)
We’re getting ready for lots of different parties and events. We’re planning trips to see Christmas displays and shows. Pretty soon it will be preparations for Christmas day itself. There’ll be family gatherings and church services. There’ll be cooking, and baking, and candlestick making! There may be travel plans, and accommodations, and ski trips. (Ok there’ll be ski trips for me!!)
There are so many preparations during this time of year, aren’t there! In fact, if you know of any other time of year where there are more preparations, please tell me. Because I can’t think of one! Often, by the time Christmas actually comes, either weve forgotten some stuff and were scrambling around trying to get it all done, or we’re just exhausted! Or both! Either way, its often so crazy were barely able to enjoy it. Does that describe you?
Think about it, though! Think about what we’re celebrating! This is a celebration of the greatest time in history! We’re celebrating the time God stepped into history! And yet we often crowd it with so many things so many preparations that we can barely see our way past any of it to remember, much less enjoy it! Advent is a season of preparation, but the preparation often drowns it out!
So what do we do? That’s a question we should ask ourselves every year. How do we keep the celebration of Jesus birth in our minds with all that other stuff going on? How do we prepare ourselves for this celebration? That’s a question we should ask ourselves every day! Every day during the Advent season, we should ask ourselves, “How do I prepare myself today for the coming of the Christ child?” Isn’t that a great question? Wouldn’t you have a better Christmas if you thought about that question every day?
Ok then, I’d like to give you all something. [Call on the ushers.] Here are some little reminders of that question for you to put on your refrigerators, your mirrors, your doors! By the way, that’s what the ancient Hebrews did! God told them to write his words on their doorposts where they would see them every day. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord, your God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.” Those little mezuzahs on their doors contain those words. So here’s yours! Put them up somewhere you’ll see them every day. And when you see them, pause and ask yourself this question. “How do I prepare myself today for the coming of the Christ child?”
In the meantime, let me also give you a thought or two from scripture. Let’s think about that time long ago, the time when God stepped into history. Let’s think about how it all happened. How was the world prepared for what was about to take place?
First of all, I want you to see that God didn’t want that time in history to go unnoticed. So he sent this man named John. And as you may know, John is the messenger the prophet foretold in Malachi 3. “Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me.” The Old Testament is tied to the New in that one verse. And as I’ve told you previous years, the name Malachi literally means “my messenger.” (So is the book of Malachi named for the author, or for what the book is about? Scholars aren’t sure.)
God sent his messenger to prepare the way. And his story is before us today. John told the people, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” “Something is about to happen that is imminent!” The funny thing is that Jesus said the exact same thing when he began his ministry. (You can look that up.) God had stepped into history, and literally, the kingdom was at hand. And Jesus then came to tell them that the kingdom was in their midst The kingdom of heaven is among you! he said. “You are the kingdom!”
That’s one important answer to that question. How do you prepare yourself today each day for the coming of the Christ child? By recognizing that his kingdom is in your midst. By knowing that you are part of it. You are the kingdom!
The next thing we need to do is to remember that that makes things different for us. We are the kingdom, and that means we are changed people. And maybe that means that we need to change some things as we prepare ourselves. So ask that question a little differently. Ask yourself, “How should things be different for me today in preparation for the coming of the Christ child?” (Maybe we need some more pieces of paper!) John said, “Repent.” And thats what repentance means. Sometimes we think it means being sorry for our sins. But repentance means living differently!
How do we live differently? Ask yourself that? And be specific. There are personal preparations to be made this season. John gave the people specific instructions. After his fiery words about vipers and children of Abraham made from stones, the people asked him “What shall we then do?” And he told them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none, and he who has food let him do likewise.” (By the way, those words take on new meaning after the devastation of hurricane Sandy! Don’t they?)
Look what happened next, though. Next he gave some instructions to tax collectors, too! And then soldiers!! By the way, I’m adding in some of Luke’s version of this story. You can find that in Luke chapter 3. And as we read this, we have to remember that those people didn’t have our understanding of those various groups of people. We who know the whole Gospel story tend to see the religious leaders as bad, and we think more highly of tax collectors and soldiers. But in this point in the story it was the opposite. These people had great respect for their leaders and they hated the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers. They would have been shocked at John as he blasted their leaders and then showed respect and compassion for the wrong people!
So, is that what it was going to be? Were their conventions of who’s in and who’s out, and who’s right and who’s wrong, going to stand? Or was it all going to change. Later, when Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” they would ask him, “Yes, but who is my neighbor?” And they were serious! And the parable Jesus told about the Good Samaritan, turned all of that on its ear!!
Friends, the Christmas story did that, too. It turned the world on its ear. And it was only a precursor to the ministry Jesus would bring. The more he said, the more he taught, the more he showed them, the more it appeared that the “good tidings of great joy” would indeed be “to all people.” – scandalous as that might have sounded at the time!
So how will we react to that Good news? As we think of Christmas, may we think of what God calls us to do and to be. May we think of the peace and goodwill that has come to all people, not just people with whom we are comfortable. As we prepare ourselves, let us remember that we are to be mirrors of Gods love, love that was poured out on the likes of us!
Preparing ourselves means remembering that Jesus’ kingdom is often different than we might expect. It is remembering that Jesus challenged those who needed to be challenged, while at the same time comforting and upholding those who others thought should be condemned. As one person put it, “Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” There is no question he did that. It’s only a matter of either accepting that, or choosing instead to explain it away.
So, what will we do? We have received the Good News. We have taken it in countless times now. But as we prepare ourselves again, will we choose to hear what that Good News actually is, or will we allow ourselves to celebrate only what we have decided it is. The first time around, the world did just that. As we look back, will we learn what it took them a long time to learn?
How do we prepare each day for the coming of the Christ Child? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” And that kingdom may not be what we expect it to be! It may be far more challenging than we, in our comfortable lives, might be prepared to accept. So, as Christmas approaches, as we make our way through Advent this “Season of Preparation” let us prepare our hearts to know all that kingdom represents. And yes, let us prepare our hearts, for that’s where it all starts!
Eternal God, your love for us is beyond our comprehension. You love us even though we don’t deserve it. Help us to love others, regardless of whether or not we deem them deserving. Help us to reach out with the Good News of Christmas, no matter how difficult it might be. For this we pray in the name of him who has been called, The Prince of Peace. Amen.