Preparing for Christmas
In our message today, I’d like to address my ending statement from last week’s message on how Satan is trying to steal Christmas.
I said that “as we enter into this Christmas season, let’s prepare our hearts the right way so that the true joy of Christmas can fill our hearts and lives.”
With Christmas right around the corner and despite the current pandemic, which threatens to cancel it, Christmas is already in full swing with decorations going up, TV specials being turned on, and sales starting to pick up. But, there is a question that has to be asked, and that is, “As we are preparing for Christmas, are we preparing for Jesus?”
Because that is what Christmas is really all about, that is, Jesus, the Son of God, coming to this earth. Christmas isn’t about giving or receiving presents; rather Christmas is supposed to be a time of remembering Father God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and celebrating His coming to seek and save the lost. And so as we prepare for Christmas, we should ultimately be preparing for Jesus and for His return.
The reality is that everything we do during this time of Christmas, we do in sort of a haze, where everything gets jumbled up in our heads as we look ahead to what must be done and what we have left to accomplish, like the meal we have to cook, the gatherings we have to attend, and the people we have to buy gifts for.
And our minds become a jumbled mess, that is, until we look in the rearview mirror and see the police car pulling up behind us. Immediately the fog clears, and every part of our bodies moves to def-com 1. Our hearts begin to pound, and our adrenaline begins to flow, our eyes become riveted to the speedometer and the road ahead, all the while glancing in the rearview mirror to see if the police car’s lights have come on, because we realize that we’re going a little bit too fast.
What we might say is that our attention has been captured. And that’s exactly what God wants to do with us this Christmas season. He want’s to capture our attention and get our minds, hearts, and spirits back on what is the most important thing. He wants to get our minds out of the fog and onto what Christmas is all about, and that is Jesus’s coming, ministry, and mission.
He wants to prepare us for more than just Christmas; He want’s us to prepare us for His Son’s return in the same way He prepared the nation of Israel for the coming of the Messiah as He sent His messenger, John the Baptist, before Jesus, and this message John gave is the same message for our day.
Read Luke 3:2-18
There are several aspects of this message that John gives to the nation of Israel that I’d like to focus upon as we prepare to greet Jesus, not only at this time of Christmas, but when He comes again.
1. A Message of Repentance
“He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3 NKJV)
To repent means to change our minds about what we’re doing and the direction that we’re going in, and then turn ourselves around to what is right. In others words, to turn away from our sins and head back in the direction of God and His word and way for our lives.
John the Baptist came to the nation of Israel to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus Christ. He came to a self-absorbed nation, a nation absorbed in its own affairs and problems. They were absorbed in their everyday routines and activities, along with their religious duties and traditions.
And to this nation John the Baptist came and told them that they needed to repent. They needed to change their minds, hearts, and spirits, and get themselves turned back to God, and as a symbol of that repentance, they were to get baptized.
But why preach such a message? Because God sent John the Baptist to prepare the people’s hearts to hear and accept His method of salvation, because Israel was about to be visited by its Savior, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and thus it was about to be invaded by the Kingdom of Heaven.
John the Baptist came with the same sobering effect upon the nation of Israel, and our own lives, as that police car in the rearview mirror. He goes on to say that the ax is already laid to the tree’s roots and is ready to bring it down and toss it into the fire if it doesn’t produce that which God had designed for it to produce, which in our case, means that we need to straighten up and fly right.
John is trying to wake up Israel as well as all of us to our situation so that we can and turn it around, because the Kingdom of God is here, and Jesus is on His way.
What was sad is that not every one got the message. Some said that they were okay with God because they were Jewish, that is, they were from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But John squashed that thinking saying that God could raise up anyone or anything to be His child, even a rock, and if we want to make it right with God, then we are to bring godly repentance to the table, that is, repentance backed up by action.
In other words, if we call ourselves Christians, that is, believers in Jesus Christ, then there needs to be godly repentance to back it up. If there’s no broken and crushed heart and spirit over our sin, then we may be Christian in name only.
There are a lot of people who are sad and remorseful over their sins, but remorse is not repentance. Remorse may also be referred to as worldly sorrow, that is, being sorry over what was done, but nothing that causes us to take action and change our thinking and our behavior.
Repentance, however, is godly sorrow. It goes much deeper and moves us to make the necessary changes in our lives to get right with God, and to live for Him and according to His word. It is godly repentance that saves.
Pastor, evangelist, and author, Alan Redpath said, “Godly sorrow that leads to repentance, therefore, is a sorrow that leads to a change of purpose, of intention, and of action. It is not the sorrow of idle tears; it is not crying by your bedside because once again you have failed; nor is it vain regret, wishing things had never happened, wishing you could live the moments again. No, it is not that. It is a change of purpose and intentions, a change of direction and action.”
The Apostle Paul reveals this very thing; that is it by our actions that we have cleared ourselves before God as being truly repentant.
“For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11 NKJV)
What Paul was saying is that their repentance was genuine, because of what it produced in their lives. There was an earnestness on their part to get clean before God, and eagerness, if you would, to get themselves right with God.
That is exactly what happened with those who got John’s wake up call.
John said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” to which they responded, “What should we do then?” (Luke 3:8,10 NKJV)
What John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul are saying is that there must be actions behind our words of sorrow. In other words, let our repentance be evident to all as it works itself out in our lives.
So, how should we be preparing for Christmas? The same way we should be preparing for the return of Jesus, and the first step in that process is repentance. This was Jesus’s message as well in the beginning of His ministry when He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2 NKJV)
Therefore, we need to make the conscious choice to repent, that is, to turn from our sins and follow God’s word and His ways.
2. A Message of Humility
In the 1970’s, Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight-boxing champion of the world. No one was more aware of this than Ali. But one day he met his match. As his plane was about to take off, the flight attendant asked him to buckle his seat belt, and Ali responded saying, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” To which the flight attendant replied, “Sir, Superman don’t need no airplane.” Needless to say, Ali buckled up.
Humility is the ability to see ourselves as we truly are before God. Jesus had described John the Baptist as the greatest person ever born of a woman.
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11a NKJV)
But notice how John saw himself. He said, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (Luke 3:16a NIV)
John was saying that he was not worthy to even approach the coming Messiah even in this lowliest manner of untying His sandals, because this task was left for the lowest slave in a household. So, in John’s mind he is lower than the lowest, even though He was God’s prophet.
And it was in this state of honest humility before God that Jesus raised him up to such amazing heights as the greatest ever, but then Jesus said that even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.
“But he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11b NKJV)
We need to view ourselves with the greatest humility, because the truth of the matter is that we all sin, and according to the Apostle Paul, we come up short of God’s holy and righteous standards for life (Romans 3:23). And when we truly possess this spirit of humility then God can do great things in us and through us.
But if we continue to hold onto pride in our ability, then the Lord will find a way to bring us to our senses, and to our knees.
Jesus said, “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 NKJV)
And so the Apostle James says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10 NKJV)
And so, it is only in such humility that we can be ready to receive Him. It is only when we come to God completely humbled that we truly prepare ourselves not only for Christmas, but for Jesus’s return.
And so, John’s message is first a message of repentance, and then it’s a message of humility. Lastly, it is a message of deliverance.
3. A Message of Deliverance
This last aspect of John’s message is from the quote used by John concerning himself. It’s found in Isaiah chapter 40.
Please turn to Isaiah 40
As you are turning there, let me give you some background to the prophecy. Within a comparatively short period of time, the children of Israel would be going into captivity to the Babylonians. The sadness of this is caught in the Psalmist lament.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth-- If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (Psalm 137:1-6 NKJV)
It was there in Babylon that they experienced the Lord’s discipline under the oppression of the Babylonians. To the Jews, their situation seems completely hopeless as they looked at how powerful and strong Babylon was. But there was always this hope, the hope of deliverance through the coming Messiah, and the messenger that would precede His coming.
“‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God. ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.’ The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isaiah 40:1-5 NKJV)
It was to these people who were about to go into captivity that Isaiah gave this message of hope that the Lord was coming and that He would deliver. It is the same message of hope that the Lord shares with us, a people oppressed by the world’s system and the power of evil that controls it. It is a word of forgiveness and a prelude to God’s mighty deliverance.
Maybe today there are some who see their way back to God as impossible given their circumstances. Maybe there are just too many crooked places in their life that they see no way of straightening them out. Maybe the mountains are too high, and the valleys too low that they see no way over or under them. Maybe their lives are a tangled mess of complication.
But God’s word, God’s promise is that He will deliver. That’s the message of the Lord when he says that every mountain will be lowered, and every valley exalted, and the crooked made straight, and the rough places smooth.
What I found interesting is that this is the description of the King’s highway, which is to be straight, level, and free from any obstacle that may hinder progress. And so what Isaiah is saying is that the Lord will arrive and His deliverance will not be delayed.
And to make sure the people get the message, the Lord goes on to say, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 NKJV)
To the Jews, their situation seemed hopeless and nigh onto impossible. But at the word of the Lord, hope was reestablished. Why, because there has never been a word of the Lord that has failed.
Now, there are two groups of people with John the Baptist. Those who refuse to receive this word of preparation, and thus they missed Jesus’s coming. They believed that they were somehow good enough and refused to repent, to humble themselves, and thus they missed out on God’s deliverance.
The other group cried out, “What shall we do then?” This group recognized their condition before a holy and righteous God, therefore, they brought forth the fruit of their repentance, and prepared their hearts and lives to receive the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
I remember a quote that has been said for years, and that is, “You can’t have Christmas pudding without first having some humble pie.” In other words, we can’t skip directly to Jesus and not first hear and obey the message of John the Baptist. We can’t receive Christmas without first preparing ourselves to meet Jesus, through repentance, humility, and believing in His power to save and deliver.