Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 40: 1-11
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
As we are in this season of advent, we often hear these words of prepare. Prepare the way of the Lord, prepare for Christmas, maybe if you’re lucky, you may even hear words as we get closer to Christmas, I am about to prepare the Ham for dinner. Being prepared requires a few things, no matter what it is that you are preparing for. It requires first, a goal. Anything that you prepare, you must first have this goal in which you are working towards. For instance, this past Sunday I prepared myself to climb to the top of Seneca Rocks on Monday. Secondly, you must think about what it is that you are preparing. As I thought about the appropriate preparation for this excursion, I began going through all of my climbing gear to make sure that I had everything I may need, a checklist you could say of things I needed to ascend the mountain. I not only had these things, but I checked over them to make sure they were still in good shape. The next thing that preparation requires is an action. You must take your plan that you have thought about, and begin to act on that plan. For instance if your goal is to harvest a deer, you have thought about where you want to sit and what time of day to sit, you then must load your gun and go and carry out your plan. Today we are though going to talk about another type of preparedness. We, in this season of advent are preparing for the birth of the Messiah, and we are to be actively preparing ourselves spiritually for Christ’s return.
Isaiah was a prophet that held great interest in the messianic prophecies. You see, even in the Old Testament they were awaiting and preparing for when the Messiah would come and a messianic prophecy is one who would speak God’s word about the one who was to come. Isaiah was such a man who foretold many truths about the Messiah who was to come. In the passage that was just read earlier, Isaiah though prophesies about another man that was to come before the Messiah that was going to prepare the way for Christ. This man was a man that was going to be in the wilderness crying out to the people to prepare the way of the Lord.
But who is this man that Isaiah speaks of? And how does someone prepare the way of the Lord, preparing the way of the most righteous, preparing the way of God…
John the Baptist was a man who we may call eccentric. He lived in the wilderness, clothed himself with camel’s hair, and while being in the wilderness ate insects and honey. This is the man that Isaiah prophesied about and this is the man that God called to prepare the way for Christ. Not exactly what who we might expect to say announce the coming of God on earth, the incarnate Christ. We may be tempted to look at this man John the Baptist as somewhat of a lunatic. One who wears camel hair and eats insects and honey. This is not a normal man at all. But these things of the camel hair and of the food he ate was a symbol of the simplicity of John and that his full devotion was to his preaching and to his ministry. John’s main ministry came after the coming of Christ, but nonetheless John was the man that preached before Christ.
So I don’t know about you all, but when Christmas comes around my family and I do a lot of cooking. Oh we love to bake cookies, buck eyes (in Jackie’s case Moose eyes), and we love especially Jackie and I, love to make homemade hard candy. Actually if you haven’t already seen, the Youth group will be making some of this hard candy next Sunday to help raise funds for their mission trip. But before we begin to cook anything, we always have to prepare the place for cooking. We always first must make sure that we have the right recipe first. Once we have the recipe, we must look at the ingredients and make sure that we have everything. Once we have figured out we have everything we place it out all on the counter. But before we do any cooking in the house, we need a clean surface to prepare the food, and we need clean hands to prepare the food as well. I would like you to think about John the Baptist as a cooking recipe. John is mostly trying to make sure we are prepared for the coming of Christ.
What was it that John preached that was preparing the way of Christ? John had three main messages that he preached to the common people. Repent, for thekingdomofGodis at hand (Mt. 3:2). Make ready the way of the Lord (Lk. 3:4-6). Submit to baptism in the RiverJordanas proof of your repentance (Mt. 3:6; Lk. 3:3).
I want to dive a little deeper into these three ideals that John preached as we begin to prepare for the birth of Christ and how is it that we apply the preaching of John to our lives to prepare our hearts for Christmas.
Repent, for thekingdomofGodis at hand…This word Repentance is used a lot in Christology and in the Christian faith. Most Christians think of repentance as asking for forgiveness. However I am going to tell you that they are only half right. Repentance has two parts to it…the first of course most would say is the easier part of the two. The first part is to ask for forgiveness for the sins that you have committed. The second part reminds me of a bumper sticker I had seen once. God allows U-turns. That means that we are to go then and stop doing the sin that we had been committing. John the Baptist was not preaching ask for forgiveness, for the kingdom of God is at hand, instead he preached Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. John was calling people to come and stop doing the evil things that they were doing because soon, the messiah will be here. As we prepare this year for the Christmas season, the coming of Christ, let us prepare our hearts with this ingredient of Repentance. Not allowing sin and evil to take control of our lives, but rather with the authority given to us by the Spirit, conquer over sin and evil and repent from it.
The second part that John preached was “Make Ready the way of the Lord.” What a task this is to do?! How exactly do we make ready the way of the Lord? John the Baptist was asked the same question in the Gospel of Luke chapter 3 from people of different backgrounds. He said to them if you have two coats, go and take one and share it with someone who is need, and likewise with your food. In our creeds, like the one we will be using today we speak about love and serving others, seeking justice and resisting evil. By the use of these creeds we make ready our hearts by speaking and professing the Word that we desire in our lives and when we say it, it hopefully reminds us more fully that this is what we desire, what we believe is right. It is in our creeds that we help make way in our own life the way of the Lord. John then goes and says that if we people are like trees and do not bear good fruit of repentance we will be like the tree that is cut down and thrown into the fire. John continued to answer questions about one’s profession and how they should prepare the way of the Lord. John was trying to help others come to make ready for the way of the Lord. We make this way ready by remembering our creeds and scriptures and being doers of the Word. We begin to prepare our hearts and souls for Christ when we give to others what we have in abundance. When you are able to give to someone who is in need, it not only benefits the person that you are giving to, but in turn you have a sense of joy that you were able to help and make a difference. It can be just as small as giving an anxious child something to do in Church. Last year at Thanksgiving service at my father’s church, Jackie and I sat behind this young women and her little boy who was probably about eight. This child was very anxious and could not sit still in the pew. He was trying to find anything to play with. He found a book mark and began making the ribbon fly around his mother’s head. Although this was very cute, it embarrassed his mother. She took away the bookmark and corrected her son. About five minutes later, he was back at it trying to find something to play with. I look at Jackie and ask if we had any of that playdo in her purse. She said no, so I took out that bookmark in front of me and began weaving the ribbon in and out of the plastic holes in the bookmark. I finished about halfway down the bookmark and tapped this young boy on the shoulder. And asked, could you finish this for me. I was able to give something to this child that he wanted and in turn gave calmness and peace to this mother simply with a gift of an activity for this boy to do. As I left that thanksgiving service there was pure joy in my heart to have seen that there was something that I could do for someone else who was in need. Another great way to do this may be to pick up one of these remaining angels on the angel tree, this may be a way to prepare your heart for the coming of Christ and the reason for Christmas.
The third message that he preached to the common folk was to come and be baptized in theJordan riverfor the forgiveness of sins. Even before the coming of Christ, baptism meant something to people. This baptism that John spoke of though is not the same baptism that we symbolize today in the United Methodist Church. John baptized for the forgiveness of sins and it was through Christ and his death that we are now baptized with the symbol of water but baptized with the Holy Spirit. In other churches they believe in a believers baptism and that is where the person that comes into the church is only baptized after they have confessed that they believe in Christ and are baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. This type of baptism is one that reflects the baptism of John. The United Methodist believe that the Spirit begins to act in our lives before we are believers and baptize infants with the Spirit of Christ and invite them to be a part of the community called the Church. The church then has the responsibility of taking this new child and raising this child to be righteous through Christ. Then later the child can confirm their baptism and become a full member of the Church. Regardless, I do plan later to be able to speak to this more in full, but for now John the Baptist was baptizing to confirm the people’s repentance and forgiveness of sins. When preparing for a recipe, this is the act of washing our hands and washing the counters in order to keep the food sanitary. Before we let Christ in our lives we must wash up, clean out those parts of our lives that have hidden away in the darkness. Remember the third part was baptism in the Jordan river.
Finally, John the Baptist, the man who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord states that even he is not worthy to stoop down and untie the throng of the sandals of the Messiah coming after him. He, a man who’s entire life was devoted to preaching the gospel of the coming of Christ was unworthy to touch the feet, the lowest servants job. And yet, we are here with the blood of Christ, worthy to call ourselves disciples of Christ. We are worthy to be called brothers and sisters to Christ, the Messiah. You may ask how am I worthy to stand next to God incarnate, Emmanuel, God With Us and be worthy? It is through the sacrifice that of Jesus on the Cross that we have become worthy.
John the Baptist preached one main message to all people he spoke with. Be prepared, repent, make ready, and be baptized. I would like to share this quote from R.L. Wheeler to close today.
If I had the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of John, the meekness of Moses, the strength of Samson, the obedience of Abraham, the compassion of Joseph, the tears of Jeremiah, the poetic skill of David, the prophetic voice of Elijah, the courage of Daniel, the greatness of John the Baptist, the endurance and love of Paul, I would still need redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of sin.
R. L. Wheeler