Sermons for Christmas CCCH 11-30-97
A. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man were all getting ready to meet the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
They had been following the Yellow Brick Road for some time now in search of this great man who was the only one who could help Dorothy get back to Kansas. And now, with the prospect of meeting him in just a few moments, they had to become presentable. Preparations had to be made in their appearance, if they were to stand before the Great Oz.
B. Dorothy and her friends had been travelling in search of this powerful presence. But in our text today, the King is coming to visit us!
READ: ISAIAH 40:3-5 (p. 714)
The prophet Isaiah hears a voice. He doesn’t say from where or from whom – only that there is a voice- that of an unnamed messenger crying out. The voice tells us about the coming of the Lord.
C. THESIS: If we are to be ready for the coming of the Lord, we must listen to the voice.
TRANSITION: As we listen today to this voice, let’s examine some of the basic questions one might ask about it. Where, why and what. And as we do this, we will understand its message to us today.
I. WHERE THE VOICE IS HEARD
A. We hear it in the desert.
1. The Israelites were familiar with the desert or wilderness areas that bordered their nation on two sides.
2. Quite often the word “desert” in the Bible does not simply refer to a geographic location, but to some aspect of the desert itself and the effect this land has on people (Intl. Standard Bible Enc., vol. 1, p. 928).
The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. King David fled into the desert from King Saul. Jesus was tempted in the desert.
3. The desert is a barren and terrifying place where people cannot live easily.
It’s a dry place, where water is rarely found and people grow thirsty. It is lonely, sometimes characterized by a solitude that is threatening and frightening. It’s desolate, often used to symbolize the desolation that has come upon the nation of Israel because of her sin.
B. The desert times in our lives are dry and barren, but the voice calls to us where we are.
You may feel like today that you are in the desert. The desert of your life may feel like a spiritually barren wasteland. Your soul is dry and parched. You are weary and thirsty – in need of living water. You may find yourself living consistently without taking any significant time for prayer – maybe 3 or 6 months or even a year or more have gone by since you’ve really prayed or even read your Bible. You’re in the desert.
Or maybe you feel like you’re in the desert all alone. Wandering around trying to find your way home. At times it’s a frightening place – a place that’s difficult for you to live on your own – and where is God? The climate of your life is extreme – intense heat and pressure by day – bone-chilling icy cold by night.
Maybe your heart is a place of desolation. Your sin has destroyed any signs of spiritual life. You may feel dead, lifeless, numb. Like you’re in the desert.
Or maybe you feel like you live in a world that is threatening and frightening. You live the best you can for Jesus Christ, but the world around you seems barren and desolate. You live or work in the midst of a desert. Signs of spiritual life are pretty hard to find anywhere around you.
And yet the voice cries out. To you and to me. In the desert. In the wasteland. Where it’s dry. Where we’re tired. Where there is little sign of any life. Where we feel abandoned. Where we feel distant. Where we feel lost or discouraged or confused. Where we’ve secluded ourselves. Where we’ve withering away. The voice cries out. “Hey, you!”
It scares us. It surprises us.
1. And the startling sound of the voice crying out reminds us of God’s unfailing love.
2. He wants to take up residence in our lives once again!
TRANSITION: Where do we hear the voice? We hear the voice in the desert. That’s where we hear it. Next we need to ask why? Why does the voice cry out?
II. WHY THE VOICE CRIES OUT
A. We have to make some preparations
1. The language in Isaiah 40:3-4 pictures a representative being sent ahead to prepare the way for a visiting king.
2. A giant road must be made, obviously not in the Chicago area – it says a road which is completely clear of any obstacles, letting nothing stand in the way. (read v. 4) – A super highway just for God!
The first level of interpretation here is that the Jewish exiles will return from captivity in Babylon. With God leading them, they will make a highway through the desert, and return to Jerusalem.
The second, but more significant level of interpretation, is that God himself will return to Jerusalem. He will take up residence there with his people, and they will see him as he lives among them. He is coming to meet them there, and his name is Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah! Prepare the way for him! Get rid of every obstacle in your heart and in your life that stands in the way of you receiving him. And for us today,
B. The voice calls us to repent
1. In the New Testament, John the Baptist became this voice and prepared the way for Jesus Christ by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2)
2. Simply put, “to repent” means “to change.”
To turn around from sinful ways, sinful habits and sinful practices, leaving them behind us for good. Repent – throw off your hypocrisy, your falsehood, your disregard for God’s rules. Change!
We make preparations for Jesus Christ by removing any obstacles that would prevent him from coming into our hearts.
Illus. When guests come into our homes, we usually prepare. We dust, mop, sweep, vacuum, straighten the pictures, tidy the shelves, shake out the rugs, put out fresh towels, and fresh sheets on the bed, set the table for dinner, cook a nice meal. Why?
To give the best welcome we can! To say, “You are an honored guest!”
Jesus Christ comes to take up residence in our lives. Born as a baby in humble, exalted to the right hand of God the Father, he waits for us to invite him into our hearts as Savior and Lord.
3. Until we sorrowfully change our sinful habits, we are not ready for the Lord to come.
Until we repent, we have not prepared our hearts for him.
TRANSITION: Why does the voice cry out? It tells us we have to make some preparations. Now that we know where and why, let’s ask what. What does the voice promise?
III. WHAT THE VOICE PROMISES
A. We will see God’s glory revealed
1. God promises that the sign of his presence and power will be visible and experienced in Jerusalem once again.
The day is coming, the prophet says, when God will walk among you.
2. This is an event that “all mankind together will see.”
It’s nothing secret. Nothing hidden. The Word of God has preserved the record of these events forever. The voice cries out. . .
B. Jesus Christ is coming!
1. The Christmas season is upon us again with the reminder that we celebrate the coming of the Christ child in Bethlehem.
We see the glory of God, we know of His presence among us through his son Jesus Christ. The people long ago we told to be prepared. Make highway in the desert. Prepare your hearts through repentance. He’s coming!
And Christmas is coming again this year too. A time to again welcome Christ as the King of King and Lord of Lords. A time to welcome him by having made preparations.
But unfortunately, many of us spend a very disproportionate amount of time preparing our houses with decorations inside and out, preparing our gift lists and holiday shopping items, wrapping them up just so, preparing our meals and Christmas cookies so that everything’s nice.
A very disproportionate amount of time that is, to what we do with our hearts, making them ready for Jesus Christ to live there by his Spirit in a way that’s ever new.
It almost makes me think of what Jesus said about the Pharisees: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Mt. 23:27)
Our houses and Christmas trees and presents and Christmas cookies may look stunningly beautiful, but if that’s the focus of our preparations, and we neglect our moral obligations to clean out the sin in our lives and die to ourselves this Christmas we’re no better off than those Pharisees. When we try to welcome Jesus we look great on the outside, but pretty dumpy on the inside.
The point is, we’re not just preparing to welcome Jesus at Christmas.
2. This is also a time of vigilant waiting for Christ’s coming return in judgment.
Even with all the prophecies about the coming Messiah, the people of Israel as a whole were not ready to receive Jesus as their King. They mocked him and derided him and finally crucified him.
We have just as many prophecies that tell us Christ is going to be coming again. Nobody predicted it correctly the first time, and nobody will be able to predict it correctly this time either.
But Jesus Christ is coming again – as the risen and victorious Lord who will take us home to live with Him forever.
3. The spiritual preparations for Christmas ultimately prepare us for this final return.
We don’t repent and clean out our hearts just so that we can celebrate Christmas in a more spiritual way. We repent and make these preparations so that we are ready to welcome Christ on the day of his appearing. So that we know him and he knows us. Now that we still have today, we prepare the guest room of our hearts so that nothing stands in the way of him taking up residence there. We make our hearts open wide to his will and his ways – living every day as though he might return at any moment.
Preparing for Christmas prepares us for Christ.
TRANSITION: Listen to the voice. We hear it in the desert. It cries out because we have to make some preparations – we have to change if we want to be ready. It promises that we will see God’s glory revealed – we will see Jesus Christ face to face on that day that he calls us home.
Illus – Guideposts magazine once ran a Christmas story about a certain nine year old boy named Wally Purling. Wally was big for his age, and a little bit of a slow learner in school. Although he was big, he wasn’t a bully. Everybody liked him and he was nice to everybody.
They were doing a Christmas program in his school, and Wally wanted to be in it. He wanted to be a shepherd, but the teacher had another part in mind for him. She wanted him to be the innkeeper because he was so big. Wally took the part home and studied it. He practiced hard.
The night came for the play, and everything was going smoothly. It came to the time when Mary and Joseph knocked on the door of the inn and Wally opened the door and said, “What do you want?” Joseph said, “We need a place to stay for the night.” “You’ve got to go find it somewhere else; the inn is full.” “Are you sure,” Joseph asked. “We’ve come a long way and it’s cold.” “No. There’s no place here, go somewhere else.” “But my wife is going to have a baby, isn’t there some corner we can hide in?”
At this point in the play there was silence, one of those embarrassing silences that make you believe somebody has forgotten his lines. Wally stood there, not saying anything. The prompter off stage whispered his line, “No, begone!” So Wally said, “No, begone!” Joseph put his arm around Mary and turned to walk away from the inn.
It was at this point that the Christmas play took an unusual twist. Wally was big, but he had a heart just as big, and he couldn’t stand seeing Mary and Joseph walk away. Caught up in the mood of the scene, Wally couldn’t help himself. He blurted out, “Wait a minute, Joseph. Bring Mary on back. You can have my room. I’ll sleep in the cold.”
There were those who went home that night, saying the Christmas story was ruined. Wally’s self-inserted lines had messed it all up. But think about it. In that little event was caught the whole essence of what we’ve been talking about today. A boy willing to sleep out in the cold so that Christ would have the kind of welcome he deserved.
A. Is the guestroom of your heart ready for the coming of the Lord? Not just for him to come as a baby this Christmas.
B. Are you ready for him to return today as the risen Lord? You can be by listening to the voice and making the necessary preparations.