Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Prepare the Way of the Lord (John 1:1-9,19-23) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


A pastor tells the story about a time he was preparing his sermon during Advent.  His 5 year old daughter approached him and said, "Daddy, can we play?"  He answered, "I'm sorry, Sweetheart, but I'm right in the middle of writing my sermon.  In about an hour I can play."  “But daddy, you always say that, are you sure?”  “Yes,” he replied.  "Okay, she said, when you're finished, Daddy, I am going to give you a great big hug."  She ran to the door and then did a U-turn and came back and gave him a bone-breaking hug.  The pastor said, "Darling, you said you were going to give me a hug after I finished."  She answered, "Yes Daddy, but I just wanted to help you prepare faster.”

What is the message of Advent?  “The Lord is coming, let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing.”  Today the spotlight shines on John the Baptist.  Why John?  He seems more like a Grinch rather than one who represents the true spirit of Christmas.   But John keeps showing up in this season whether we like it or not.

Our lesson from the Gospel of John says:  “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light, the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

John was the quintessential prophet.  He looked like one, he acted like one, he sounded like one, he dressed like one and he smelled like one.   A common reaction today to John is: “What a kill-joy.  I’m stressed already at Christmas, I'm busy enough this time of year, you mean I have to repent too?”  “John is very un-Christmas like.” Would you like to invite John over to your home and spend an evening with him?

John’s presence that day fulfilled the age-old prophecy from the prophet Isaiah: “See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.”  God sent John to get people ready for the Lord’s appearing.

The Jewish leaders asked John – “Who are you?”   John first told them who he wasn't; “I am not the Messiah, let's make that perfectly clear.”  They asked again.  John replied:  “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”   John didn't give a name.  Instead, he said:  “I am the voice of another.”  In other words: “It’s not important who I am, it’s not about me, I am a disembodied voice.”  “It’s all about the one who is coming after me.”   God called John to be the forerunner, the herald, the messenger, to witness of the coming Savior of the world.   John was sent to set the stage.

Think of the crowds that turned out to see him.  Yes, some were curiosity seekers, others undoubtedly came to mock him, but many came because they were discontented with their lives.  They were spiritually hungry, they felt a spiritual void, an emptiness, an inner-longing, they wanted to change their lives and get right with God.   They were seeking forgiveness and purpose, hope and joy.  Isn’t that true for some, perhaps many people today?

Advent is a time to get ready for the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus at many levels.  How will you prepare yourself?  There are practical ways of preparing the way.  We host friends and family in our homes and prepare special meals and activities.  We decorate our homes and churches, like we have here at PBPC and even some cities and communities in our nation still decorate for Christmas.  We buy gifts; send cards.  Parents plan Advent activities for their children.   We donate to special charities to help the poor this time of year.  We continue the cultural debate about whether our commercialism has crowded out Jesus' birth at Christmas or whether there is still room in the inn of our of hearts, our homes and our communities.

Further, there are spiritual ways to prepare the way.  John the Baptist challenged people to be spiritually vulnerable, to open themselves to God, to turn away from their sins, to turn from their pride and self-deceptions.  God sent John to disturb consciences, to awaken a spiritual need, to expose the darkness in people’s lives, to free us from self-centeredness, to shake folks up.  John called people to repent and re-dedicate their lives to God.  John called people to trust in God for forgiveness and peace.   Spiritual ways include coming to worship services, reading advent and Christmas stories in the Bible, engaging in prayer.

If you don’t prepare spiritually, if you get lost in busyness, the time from now through Christmas will pass by with no special significance, no special meaning, no special joy.  It will be like any other month.   You will miss being surprised by God’s grace this season.

Finally, there are witnessing ways to prepare for the Lord.  When John the Baptist shouted prepare the way of the Lord, he was serving as God's announcer, forerunner, herald, messenger, and witness to prepare others for the coming of the Messiah.   Announcers are important aren't they?

We need people who will prepare the way for us, blaze a trail, go before us, set the scene, open doors of opportunity, pave the way, lay a foundation.   I think of Dick Enberg, the television announcer for the SD Padres.  I also think of special people who have paved the way in my life over the years.

To whom is God calling you to be an announcer, a herald, a witness?  To whom is God calling you to prepare the way of the Lord?  For example a neighbor, a colleague, a cousin, a family member, a friend?  Whom has God laid on your heart this season?

I think of a famous composer whom God called to be a messenger of the lord - George Frederick Handel.   He spent most of his life in London, England.  The story is told about how this aging composer, wandered the lonely streets of London, night after night, in hopeless despair.  Only memories of his past glory, when the brilliant man was touted by the court society of London and Europe remained with him.  It seemed as if his genius had deserted him.  Once the favorite of kings and queens, he had been forced into bankruptcy and had become a pauper.

One bitterly cold morning during the winter of 1741, Handel returned to his lodging, to find a thick package on the table.  It contained a text made up of scripture verses from the opera writer, Charles Jennens.  Dazed by cold and hunger, Handel leafed through the pages and the words from the prophet Isaiah caught his attention.

Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, says the Lord.  Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us.  The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. I know that my Redeemer liveth and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth - King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  Hallelujah.”    The words burned into his soul.   He began composing the music to the immortal oratorio, the Messiah.  For two weeks he labored incessantly, until it was finished.

God used Handel as His herald, his forerunner, his witness.  Nearly, three centuries have passed and people are still thrilled by the music of the Messiah and by the inspiration of a man whose faith, creative energies and talents God used to announce the coming of the way of the Lord to new generations.

We live in a world where there is joy and light and love and yet, at the same time, a world racked with uncertainty, violence, and darkness and we need during Advent, to focus our hearts and minds upon the one whom God sent to save us.  May God use us today, like God used John long ago, to help people get ready for the coming of the Lord.     Pray for God to prepare you in surprising ways this Advent and Christmas season.   Amen!

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