Summary: Preparing for Christmas means more than just shopping for presents and putting up the decorations. It means opening our hearts and lives to the working of the Holy Spirit. This is a sermon for Advent 3, Year B.
The Promised One is Coming!
Well, there are only 11 more shopping days until Christmas. Are you prepared?
When many people talk about preparing for the holidays, this is the line of questioning that follows. And with good reason. If buying Christmas presents was the only thing that had to be done to prepare for Christmas, then many folks wouldn’t be nearly so stressed. But in addition to the gift shopping, there’s all the decorating, menu planning, shopping, and food preparation, cleaning for all those guests you invited over, wrapping the presents, mailing presents to out of town family and friends, and don’t forget the task of getting the Christmas cards in the mail. No wonder people get so stressed around the holidays. So, are you prepared for Christmas?
Even in the life of the church, we have some preparing to do. I’m not just referring to putting up the Christmas tree and decorating the windows. In our worship life, we prepare for our Lord’s coming among us. We examine our lives, and do a little spiritual housecleaning. As we prepare for our Lord’s birth among us, we hear the call of John the Baptist to “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Today we hear more of John’s teaching. His impression of the curious crowds doesn’t seem to be a very positive one. “You brood of vipers” isn’t a compliment in any language. John calls the people to repent, to turn from their evil and apathetic ways, and to be passionate about seeking God’s will for their lives. His desire is that their lives bear fruit that is worthy of the God they claim to serve. Prepare the way of the Lord, John says. Prepare!
Preparing for a Savior isn’t about privilege. It doesn’t involve saying the right prayers or having the right ancestors, or reciting some magic formula. Instead, John tells us, it involves a change of heart, a new perspective. Be busy preparing for the Coming Messiah, John tells us. It’s not just, “the boss is coming, look busy.” When you truly experience God’s salvation, then everything looks different. You see the world in a new and different way. You see a world filled, not with obstacles trying to make you fail, but with opportunities challenging you to succeed.
The crowds hint at interest in John’s message, and so they ask, “Okay, what then should we do? How can we live out this new life that you’re calling us to?”
John challenged the people to let go, to free their hearts and their lives from those things that weigh them down. To the crowds, John encouraged them to be generous with their time and possessions. "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." A generous spirit is one who is willing to give of themselves to help a neighbor in need. Even the tax collectors and soldiers were listening to John. Remember that tax collectors were considered to be outsiders, on account of their profession, as their dealings required them to have alliances with the Roman government. The soldiers were outside of those considered to be a part of God’s family too, because they would have been Roman citizens, who claimed allegiance to the Emperor instead of to God. But here are these two groups of outsiders, asking John how they too can prepare for the Messiah’s coming. John didn’t turn them away. He didn’t tell them, “Sorry, you’re outside of God’s love.” Instead, he invited them to lead a life of repentance. His words reveal the radical and gracious truth, that there’s room in God’s kingdom for many more people that we’re ready to admit, or can even imagine. To the tax collectors, John says to be fair in their practice, to deal honestly in their business. To the soldiers, John says, “Don’t resort to threats and extortion to get your way and line your pockets. Go about your business with dignity, justice, and integrity.” To all three of these groups, John says, “Be satisfied with what you have. Don’t think that possessions or power can make you more important in God’s eyes. After all, God can create children of Abraham from stones. Instead, the ‘secret to God’s kingdom’ lies in rejoicing in all circumstances.” John’s encouragement is that we live an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks for all things, even when we can’t always see the blessings hidden therein.
John the Baptist didn’t know about the Apostle Paul, but their message is certainly the same. Paul was locked away in prison when he wrote his letter to the Philippian congregation, urging them to seek God’s will for their lives, to rejoice in the Lord always, even when facing trials and struggles. As Paul sat in prison, his thoughts are filled with rejoicing, not despair. Because of his love for the Lord, Paul could rejoice, even in the midst of his imprisonment. The letter to the Philippians is filled with cheer, joy and encouragement. Paul’s joy truly overflows, as he writes, “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (Philippians 3:7-9a) Paul’s joy comes, not from his circumstances, but from the knowledge of God’s saving love and grace. The letter to the Philippians can easily be summed up in the phrase, “Jesus is coming, and I can’t wait!”