(Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/MQn1zZAIpVk)
3In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the funny one about a student who is going to take a class in ornithology, the study of birds, and it’s a very difficult class with a very ornery professor. He walks in for the final, and he thinks he’s studied up for it, but there’s no paper and pencil questions, no little blue books. He looks above the chalkboard and there are twenty-five pictures of birds, but only of their feet, just the feet of the birds. The professor says, “Here’s your final. You must identify twenty-five species of birds just by their feet.” Well, the kid just goes ballistic. He says, “This is crazy! Nobody in their right minds can do this. I thought I was prepared, but I can’t pass this final. I’m not going to take it.” The professor looks at him, “You have to take it. I’m the faculty person. I decide what the final’s going to be. You have to take it.” The kid says, “Well, I’m not going to. I’m not taking the final.” The professor says, “You don’t take it I’ll flunk you.” The kid says, “That’s okay. Go ahead and flunk me.” The professor says, “All right, you’ve failed. What’s your name?” The kid rolls his pants up to his knees and says, “You tell me.”
Maybe you were once like this poor, unfortunate kid. You were in a class that was way beyond your capability. No matter how hard you tried to learn the material, it just wouldn’t sink in. You went over it and over it and over it but nothing stuck. Then, come testing time, the questions seemed to be in a foreign language. Nothing made sense…the whole subject was lost on you. In my 20+ years of schooling, I know there were plenty of classes that just drove me crazy. But I, unlike the student in that story, certainly did NOT have the nerve to defy the teacher with such brashness! Perhaps you did but I most certainly did not!
And I suppose it’s a good thing that I was little reserved because, over time, I came to realize that whether I learned the material or not had little to do with how the teacher taught it. No, the responsibility of learning difficult material relies primarily on me and my efforts. If I put the time and effort into learning the material, there is NO material that is non-learnable! And how well I perform in testing situations is directly the result of how well I have prepared. Even the kid in the story realized that he hadn’t properly prepared for that type of a test. But preparedness is a personal responsibility. We can blame the teacher all we like but it is the responsibility of each of us to prepare ourselves for important times in life. Sometimes they’re times of testing, sometimes they’re times of celebration, but they’re always times of importance that demand an adequate amount of preparation.
During this season of Advent, we are awaiting just such an important time. For some of us it is a time anxiety and sorrow. For others it is a time of joyful celebration. But regardless of how we perceive the time of Christmas, we would all agree that it is an important time. The birth of our Lord and Savior IS an important time! Why? Because it is an event in which our God chooses to enter into time and space. Our God chooses to be limited by time and space in taking on the form of a human child. Our God chooses to experience life as a human child, to become vulnerable like a child, to enter into the fragile and constantly changing life cycle. Do you think this was easy for God to do?! If you were our all-powerful, all-knowing, everlasting God, would you willingly demote yourself to a rather powerless, somewhat dumb, ever-changing state of existence?! And for what? To be praised by many while at the same abused by many? To be prematurely killed for no other reason than your eagerness to serve those around you? To be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented by most everyone you meet? And yet this is precisely what our God does! This is precisely what God enters into when he comes to us as child. And this is precisely why it is such an important time! It is such an act of love…such a radical expression of pure love…that we can’t help but stare in awe at its importance! Aside from Jesus’ death and resurrection, his birth is perhaps the greatest event in all of history! Our God comes to us as a child…as one of us…as the best of us!
Though Jesus’ birth, as God coming to us, is in itself a pretty awesome event, it is made even more awesome when considering how it fulfilled prophecies from old. Jesus is not just your average man…Jesus is an extraordinary man! Jesus is a man unlike any other man! The prophet Isaiah foretold just how unique of a man Jesus is: “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.” This is the man that the little baby Jesus will grow to become! Though weak and vulnerable at the start, Jesus will grow to become an awesome ruler among men. His name and all that he did will be proclaimed by many. And it all began with a lowly and humble birth, a mighty important event when considering what it would eventually produce.
The prophets weren’t the only ones who knew of the importance of Jesus. Jesus’ own cousin, John the Baptist, knew the importance of the Messiah if not necessarily his cousin. After all, we don’t know if John actually knew that his cousin was the Messiah that he was warning people about. Nonetheless, John plays a key role in preparing the people around him for the coming of the Messiah by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Indeed, acknowledging our sins and asking for forgiveness is essential for opening our hearts and spirits to Jesus. It is in acknowledging our sins and seeking forgiveness that we become receptive to the gifts that Jesus brings. Jesus can’t come to a hard, unrepentant heart. Jesus has no place in a hard, unrepentant heart. It is only with an open, repentant heart that we can even begin to receive Jesus.
But acknowledging sins and seeking Jesus’ forgiveness are just a part of preparing for Jesus. As our children’s message from earlier illustrated, preparing for Jesus to enter into our hearts and lives also involves serving and loving our neighbors in the meantime. Not only our neighbors but ourselves as well. We should be living responsible lives of honesty and integrity. We should be taking care of ourselves both mentally, physically, and spiritually. We shouldn’t just be sitting around, hoping and waiting for our Lord to return so that he might make the changes we need to better our lives. No, God wants us to take control of our lives and lead them with confidence and assurance. God wants us to be loving to ourselves and those around us. Repentance is just a portion of the necessary preparation…a small portion at that! No, the most effective and efficient way to prepare for our Lord’s coming this season is to love and serve ourselves and our neighbors. Love and service prepare hearts the best!
So as we continue through this Advent season, let us be mindful of the importance of the Christmas season and how it encourages us to prepare. Jesus’ birth is an awesome event, not only for what it represents as God coming to us but also as the start of the mighty man that Jesus will grow into. Let us be focused in our preparation. Let us first and foremost acknowledge our need for him but then reach out to ourselves and each other in love and service. Let us give thanks for this time…a time of preparation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.