(Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/2J_2V6QYyXE)
3In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
There’s a story about a farmer who owned land along the Atlantic seacoast. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals. Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer. “Are you a good farm hand?” the farmer asked him. “Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,” answered the little man.
Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man’s work. Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!” The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, “No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”
Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.
In less than 3 weeks, we will yet again celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. We will retell the story of how Mary and Joseph were denied a place in the inn and forced to take up lodging in a nearby stable. It was in that dark, humble shelter that Jesus was born. Certainly not the expected place for the king of all kings to be born in! Certainly a place with the least amount of amenities for a woman to give birth in! And yet what a storm that brews up from such humble origins. Jesus’ birth, though meek as it is, causes a storm the likes of which the world hasn’t seen before or since. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus completely overturned and revolutionized our world. Our world hasn’t been the same since Jesus came into it. He radically changed our understanding of who we are, of who God is, and of our relationship with God. Jesus boldly stood up against the forces of evil in this world and paid the ultimate price for it. But who Jesus was and the storm that was created through him both had a beginning. Soon we will be celebrating their humble beginning in that lowly stable.
As we set out on our Advent journey last week, I invited you to ask yourselves a couple of questions. First, I borrowed a question from a popular country song from the 1950s: what would you do if Jesus were to come and spend some time with you? Would you be ashamed of what you had to offer to Jesus? Would you be proud? Would you be glad to welcome Jesus into your world and would you be anxious about it? This is an important question to ask as we near the celebration of our Lord’s birth. Jesus is coming, like it or not, so it is appropriate to ask ourselves this question. At the same time, it naturally follows to ask ourselves the second question I raised last week: are you ready? Are you ready to present yourself before the Lord, however that may be, when he comes? Is the life you’re living the one you want to present to the Lord? If it is, then you are living a good life of personal integrity. If it isn’t, well then, what are you going do about it? You must have an idea of the person and/or life that Jesus would be pleased to see when he comes…what are you doing to be that person and/or live that life?
This week I want to lift up a third question as suggested by this message’s title: are you prepared? It is similar to the question, “Are you ready?” but I think there’s more action involved. To be prepared involves doing activities. As we heard in our children’s message, preparing for company during the holidays involves cleaning, shopping, cooking, making beds, etc. Preparation involves action and “being ready” is the result of preparation. The hired hand from our opening story prepared for the storm by tying down everything around the farm and sheltering the chickens and cows safely in the barn. Because he prepared, he could enjoy a good, strong sleep as the storm passed.
Jesus was born and the storms his birth created didn’t catch everyone unaware. We hear from our assigned reading for this week that God had a diligent hired hand as well. For years, John the Baptist had prepared for the coming of Jesus. John had preached a need for repentance…a need to acknowledge personal sinfulness and ask for God’s merciful forgiveness. John was the messenger spoken of by the prophet Malachi who was “like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap.” Repentance is an act of preparation. It is an act of getting oneself ready for when God comes calling…for when Jesus comes calling! It is an act of becoming “pure and blameless” as Paul had hoped for the Philippians. John was no doubt heeding the words of his father, Zechariah, who told him in Luke’s passage, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” John was no doubt fulfilling the prophecy set forth by Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” John was all about helping the Israelites and us(!) to prepare for the Lord.
Jesus’ birth is the source of great storms. Just look at the storms it creates in our families, in our homes, in our kitchens, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our daily routines, and in our shopping habits! Just look at the flurry of activity that is created by Jesus’ birth this month! So ask yourself: are you getting swept away by all the storms? Are you overwhelmed by all the activities and expectations of the season? Well, God doesn’t want this for you or me. God sent John the Baptist to prepare us for Jesus over 2000 years ago. God keeps sending us warnings to prepare ourselves. These warnings might come in the form of people or situations but make no mistake about it, God wants us prepared.
So how do we prepare ourselves? By heeding John’s words of course! By acknowledging the sins that we have committed this year and asking God to forgive us of them. By opening our hearts yet again to the transformative powers of Jesus and inviting him back into our lives as we close out another year. Jesus walked with us in this last year and Jesus will walk with us in the year ahead but we need to be receptive to him. We need get rid of anything that holds us back from a relationship with him. We do this by acknowledging our sins and receiving God’s merciful forgiveness. Be prayerful this season. Be humble this season. Be thankful this season. Perhaps most importantly, be loving this season. And continually ask yourself: are you prepared?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.