Summary: Is your Christmas preparation festive or frantic? What if you could narrow down preparation for Christmas to one, single thing? What is it? John the Baptist reminded the people of his day and us of the one thing necessary to be ready for Christ's coming!
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. 'Tis the season to be jolly. Fa-la-la-la-la…” Hold on! Tis the season to be JOLLY? You might slightly disagree with that when you look at your December calendar or attempt to do some shopping. It seems more like, ‘tis the season to be FRANTIC! Christmas is one week closer than last weekend and the length of things to do just seems to be getting longer instead of shorter! Christmas cards to send, cookies to bake, houses to clean, Christmas presents still to purchase, car rides to endure, and the list goes on and on – all the different things that you still need to get done before Christmas! Now maybe you’re thinking, “Thanks a lot! I was hoping to forget about those things for a few moments at church this morning, and now I’m all stressed out.” First let me apologize, and secondly, what if I could help you to simplify your Christmas preparation? In fact, there is really only one thing that is necessary to truly be ready to celebrate Christ’s coming. What is it? What is that one thing? It’s the one thing that we heard about in our gospel lesson this morning, as we listened to a man named John the Baptist.
John the Baptist is a rather interesting person. He was certainly unique for a number of different ways. You might recall his birth which was certainly unique. You’ll hear more about that on Wednesday at our Advent service, but John was the result of a miracle. His parents Zechariah and Elizabeth were unable to have children, and Elizabeth was way past that time of life when women normally have children. Then an angel appears to her husband Zechariah and tells him that Elizabeth would have a child. Sure enough, 9 months later, John was born. But that was just the beginning of John the Baptist being unique.
John was the fulfillment of a very specific Old Testament prophecy written by the prophet Isaiah some 800 years before John was born and repeated by other prophets like Malachi who we heard this morning in our first lesson. You heard the reference to that prophecy this morning in Luke 3:4, “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord…” (Luke 3: 4). John was “the voice” who literally lived out in the wilderness around the Jordan River. And what was John’s job supposed to be? He was to call out to people, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” The call of the prophets, “Christ is coming!” that had echoed throughout the Old Testament over centuries and centuries, was one that John the Baptist would also join in, but in a bit of a different way. What all the Old Testament prophets only saws through the eyes of FAITH, John the Baptist would see with his very own eyes. John would actually see Jesus and literally point to him, identifying Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited and now arrived promised Savior. His call, “Christ is coming” would soon be followed by, “There he is!”
What would this getting ready people to welcome the Christ all involve? Listen again, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall be come straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation’” (Luke 3:4-6/Isaiah 40:3-5). John was supposed to be that voice, the person calling out to other people “Get ready because Christ is coming!” How would those people prepare? Well, the Lord uses a picture of a major construction project to describe that preparation.
While I’ve never personally worked in road construction, I do consider myself somewhat well-experienced in road construction having regularly driven through both Chicago and Milwaukee for the past 14 years and spent many hours sitting in traffic, watching multi-year construction projects reach completion. The picture that these words from Isaiah paint is not merely sending through the streetsweeper to pick up some trash, or even the adding of a lane to relieve some traffic congestion. This is MAJOR road construction. Did you hear what needed to be done? The blasting away of boulders, the leveling of mountains, the filling in of monstrous canyons, rerouting roads to make them straight, removing any and every obstacle that might make travel difficult. This was to be a luxury highway that was fit for a king.
The Lord used this picture to describe the SPIRITUAL preparation that needed to take place for people to be ready for Christ’s coming. It was major, and it is the same major preparation that needs to take place today, for us to be ready to celebrate Christ’s coming. It is the major preparation that you heard John the Baptist calling for in Luke 3:3, “He [John the Baptist] went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). There is one word that might best summarize the preparation that John was calling for – it’s the word “repentance.”