Summary: John the Baptist came to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. How do we prepare today?
“Prepare The Way!”
November 30, 2003
Now that it is winter here in Nebraska, getting to work in the morning will be a little more difficult for me. More preparation will need be done before I can pull (or skid) into the parking lot here at church. Above and beyond the normal, everyday morning preparation I will have to add a few more items to my routine. There will be the frantic dash to the truck, to get it started up, before I rush back in the house and finish getting ready. If I do not take that preparation seriously, I will freeze on the drive to church, there might be few teeth left due to the shivering if I shirk the truck-warming preparation. I will also have to put on new items of clothing, weird pieces of attire called gloves, caps and longhandles…I am still unsure of what those are. On mornings that find the streets covered in snow and ice, I will need to await the snowplow which will prepare the roadways for my epic 1 mile journey to Good Shepherd. All of it, sandbags and chapstick, thermals and ice scrapers…remind me that this time of year will certainly be a time of preparation for me.
As we begin the Advent season we aren’t just preparing for cold weather, we are looking forward to that grand celebration that the kids have been anticipating since last December 26th…Christmas-the festival of the Lord coming to us. The biggest holiday of the year! And as we gather together in church these next few Sundays we will hear the story of a man named John the Baptist. A man whose mission it was to prepare. To prepare the people for the coming of their Lord.
Our story does not begin with John the Baptist, rather, it begins about five centuries before the events of today’s Gospel reading, in the last words of the Old Testament. It’s not a pretty picture. Israel has seen Jerusalem and the temple destroyed because of idolatry. They’ve been carted off into captivity and slavery. Delivered by the Lord, a few of them have returned, rebuilt the city and temple, and started all over again.
But already, the prophet Malachi declares that corruption has once again come to the holy place. The hearts of the people have turned. The priests have become lax and immoral. The ceremonies of the temple are no longer God-pleasing. The number of the faithful is dwindling once again. The prophet speaks out against these sins, but he still preaches a word of hope: The Savior is coming. "The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple," he prophesies (Mal. 3:1). And just before the Lord appears, one will come to prepare the way. Listen to these final words of the Old Testament:
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."
Then the Lord says nothing more for 500 years.
500 years later, a priest enters the temple. He’s an elderly man, this Zacharias, chosen by lot to burn incense that day. He sees more than incense: Gabriel, an angel of the Lord appears to Zacharias with startling news, we hear this proclamation in the Gospel lesson today:
”Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ’to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Lk. 1:13-18)
The Lord has been silent to human ears for five centuries, but He picks up His plan right where He left off. As the Old Testament closed, He promised the Savior and a messenger to precede Him. As the New Testament opens, He announces that the messenger is nearly there: He will be the son of old Zacharias and his barren wife, Elizabeth. He will be the miracle-child of their old age. But more than that, he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He will be great in the sight of the Lord. But why? How? Gabriel answers that question in this manner: Verses 16 and 17