Isaiah 9:1-7, Matthew 3:1-12
November 27, 2016
Advent is a time for preparation. I say that every year, and isn’t that an understatement? There are so many things to “prepare for,” to get ready for, this time of year. Decorations, travel plans, gift buying… And it’s all right on the heels of Thanksgiving! Who put those two things so close together. (Not to mention any New Years celebrations we might be having!)
So, this past week we did all this! Look around you! Our sanctuary is one of the most beautiful at Christmastime that I’ve ever seen! There was – and will continue to be – a lot of effort that goes into the beauty of this place! It’s not all done yet! And by the way, Kudos to our resident ladder climber, and those who helped do all the other work. We were a small group this year, but mighty!
I always think there is such great symbolism in all that “preparation.” And as I look back at the Gospel story, that’s what the ministry of John the Baptist was about. He was the voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare!” “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Oh and just a little tidbit about that. Matthew makes a slight change in that quote from Isaiah. He says “A voice cries in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” But Isaiah actually says, “A voice cries, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.’” or “Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord.” Do you see the difference?
Isaiah was emphasizing the cataclysmic changes in the wilderness – in the wild places! That was the importance of preparing the way for the Lord. That was his way of expressing the great changed that was coming in the world. Even the wilderness would be “tamed!” Mountains would be leveled, valleys filled, rocky places smoothed out.” That imagery emphasizes the great importance and power of the event. “This is so important, it’s as though the mountains will be leveled!” Do you see?
Actually Matthew makes that same case. But he also lets the syntax of the sentence work for his description of John. John was out in the wilderness of the Jordan. And his preparation for the Lord still had that same earth-shattering imagery and power. And as we think of it, that’s the importance of this event we celebrate, this event for which we prepare! And it always gives me just a little angst, when I see it portrayed with snowmen, and reindeer, and nutcrackers! (Especially nutcrackers!)
I love all that stuff, though! I love that we get out the decorations, when we light the candles, when we make the plans to be together. I think that’s all good for us. Because the whole idea of “preparation,” the act of doing all this stuff, helps us to think about preparing our hearts for the event. And that’s good – as long as we don’t forget that part of it in the swirl of all of the other “things we do” this time of year!
So, I want you to think about that today. I want you to look around you, to take in all the beauty of this time, and think about preparing your hearts. And as I say that, I have to tell you that I wasn’t really feeling the “Christmas spirit” before we started “hanging the greens.” The season has snuck up on us, hasn’t it? It’s snuck up on us in much the same way a runaway freight train would sneak up on us! It’s been coming, and it’s been coming way too fast! As I’ve been saying, it’s hard to believe we’re so far along in the year!
However! As we started working on the decorations, I started to feel it! That “spirit” started to grow in me. And I wasn’t expecting that! Was I in the Christmas mode last week? No, not really. Am I this week? Surprisingly, yes! And I hope that happens for you today, too! And not just for the sake of the season, or it’s beauty and richness, but so you can begin “preparing your hearts” for the coming of the Lord.
You see, that’s the most important thing that all the decorations can do for us. They remind us about what John (the Baptist) was calling for here. He was calling for “preparation.” He was telling the people to “Repent!” “For the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words, “Change your hearts!” As Jesus would tell them, “The kingdom is here in that the kingdom is in your midst!” The kingdom is in your hearts!
So, this is all a great metaphor. These are the visible signs, the visible trappings of the Advent/Christmas Season. But Jesus would tell the world that outward signs needed to be “outward signs of inward change.” Jesus didn’t look on appearances. He looked on the heart. But(!) he also told us that what’s on the outside comes from what’s inside. So it all works together.
John came on the scene telling the people the Kingdom of heaven was at hand. Something was about to happen after which the world would never be the same again! What about us? Because of Christmas, will we too “never be the same again?” Are the outward signs of our lives, “outward signs of inner change?”
The Advent/Christmas season has begun. Let us begin it in earnest! Let us immerse ourselves in the wonder of this time. But above all, let everything remind us to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the coming of the Lord.
Eternal God, we are grateful that you came to live among us, and to show us your kingdom. Help us to keep your kingdom in our minds and in our hearts, now, and throughout this season. May all that we see and hear remind us that because of Jesus, we will never be the same again. For we pray in his name, Amen.