There is a tarsealed road at East Gore that leads to the river.
Along this road are a series of deliberately built bumps like judder bars.
They have been put there to restrain the young people who like to race along that road. The concern is to slow them down and to prepare them for entering East Gore.
They are deliberately installed there so that someone doesn’t get hurt or even worse, die.
In the bible God is often preparing his people and shaking them out of complacancy. The bible is pepperred with God’s judder bars.
There are certain scriptures that are there that prepare people for what God is about to do so that nobody should be hurt or die unnecessarily.
The season that we are in in the church at the moment is known as advent.
Advent is a time of preparation. It can act as an important judder bar for us.
Matthew 3:1-12 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, ’Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’" 4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ’We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
This passage is often used for folk to prepare themselves for Christmas.
Of course Jesus and John were about the same age. But John’s role was a forerunner or the one who prepares the way for Jesus. As such he becomes a vital figure to help us to genuinely prepare for the Christmas season.
Actually, if you consider the three aspects of our lives - body, mind and spirit we would have to confess that much of our preparation for Christmas is of this world. Body and mind and often not a lot of spirit.
We think about a procession of functions and occasions - breakups and presentations - gift buying and home decoration - church services and farm chores. Getting the crops organised and the shearing - weaning or whatever done. On top of this there is planning for holidays - getting off christmas cards and so many other things. And if that weren’t enought there is christmas dinner parked right at dead centre of the whole Christmas whirlwind.
Don’t you think it is time we got serious about christmas as a vital season for our faith?. What if we flagged some of this "stuff" that is expected of us and just whittled things down until Christ, not an obese man in a red suit, became the centrepiece of Christmas?
Sermon Central:- On the whole, the world deals with increasing darkness by plugging in more artificial lights." The church, on the other hand, moves into a period of darkness; a time of waiting guided only by dim advent candles. "Our willingness to wait in the dark is our puzzling witness to a culture that is dedicated to supplying its own light." (Barbara Brown Taylor)
But there is not much point in waiting until Christmas day for that.
Let’s this morning consider some good reason we have for getting ready for Christmas as heard from the Prophet John the Baptist.
The first reason is the closeness of the Kingdom of heaven. Matthew 3:1-12 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
When he said that people flocked to hear the message from all over the place. Why did they do that?
Because they recognised that there was something about John the Baptist that rang true - What he ws saying made sense - it wasn’t foreign to them. So they flocked to hear what he had to say. What he said was of great importance -
The Kingdom of heaven is very very close - it is at hand.
Now of course when John preached this the baby Jesus was already born.
He was in fact a young man about to move in to full time ministry in Israel. As we prepare for Christmas then, this message is vitally important to us because although we know we are celebrating the birth of Jesus - it is not as if he hasn’t already been born - of course he has - it is a 2000 year old celebration - the reason we celebrate the birth of this particular baby is because of the cosmic implications of his birth. The importance of Christmas goes far beyond remembering a birthday. The importance is the consequences of that birth upon the world and upon us. Those consequences are just as vital today as they were 2000 years ago.
What Jesus birth means is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
What does this mean?
Well presumably the Kingdom of heaven by definition is not the same as the world that we live in.
The character of the Kingdom of this world is continually revealing itself.
Some pieces of evidence that we saw this week would be seen in Kenya when innocent people were murdered because of evil - the same group tried to murder a whole plane load of innocent people. Here in New Zealand - in the papers - we can find numerous stories that will convince us that we live in the Kingdom of this world.
The Kingdom of heaven is totally different.
It’s character is continually referred to in the bible.
2 Peter chapter 2 verse 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
JAS 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
We have then these two Kingdom;s. T he Kingdom of the world ruled over by the devil, for now and the kingdom of heaven. And the two are totally incompatable.
One produces darkness and death the other produces life and hope.
1 John chapter 5 verse 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
When John the Baptist refers to the kingdom of heaven being at hand he is referring to
the kingdom of heaven. A phrase found only in Matthew, where it occurs 33 times. See Introduction: Recipients. Mark and Luke refer to "the kingdom of God," a term Matthew uses only four times (see note on Mk 11:30). The kingdom of heaven is the rule of God and is both a present reality and a future hope. The idea of God’s kingdom is central to Jesus’ teaching and is mentioned 50 times in Matthew alone.
It means that Jesus ushered in a time where this world and god’s Kingdom are on a collision course. Revelation draws out what will happen when the two meet. But what the birth of Jesus means is that God is with us.
Even today after Jesus has ascended to heaven Jesus is only a prayer away.
He himself says in Revelation chapter 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Jesus by virtue of his birth on earth and ultimate death for our sins allows us to come into close contact with the Kingdom of God. We are now enabled to live in the presence and the way of God.
But the thing about Westernised Christianity is it is not industrial strength - it often manifests itself in insipidness or a watered down version. For the Church and the Christian to truly comprehend the meaning of Christmas it needs to heed what is meant in the words of John the Baptist when he says
Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
What does John mean by repent and why is it a timely word in relation to Christmas?
To repent is to literally turn around from walking away from God and to walk towards him.
It is as we do this that we experience the presence and character of God.