12/8/02, A2B

“Preparing Him Room”
Mark I: 1-8

1) "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (2) As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; (3) the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' (4) John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (5) 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. (6) Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locust and wild honey. (7) He proclaimed, 'The one that is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. (8) I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
(Mark 1: 1-8, NRSV)

Preparation is the major part of any undertaking. Marilyn prepared me to get the Christmas Tree securely in its stand. Such a major undertaking required a great deal of groundwork; even though we do it every year. Although last year's giant tree did fall twice and crushed a lot of sentimental ornaments, we did get this year's tree in place last Monday and the girls came over Tuesday evening to put on the decorations, as they have done all of their lives. Our planning process, and a more reasonable size tree, has brought success; it has not fallen, yet.

The Old Testament records how the Almighty planned for thousands of years to send His Son to make possible human redemption. The Omniscient One knew that we would need a means of salvation even when He initially created us. He seemed to plan for our fall before we fell. Through the Prophets His plan was gradually developed and explained. God decided to work with fickle human beings to bring His plan to life. He sent an angel to talk to Mary at the water well in Nazareth. Joseph had to agree to play his significant role. Elizabeth and Zechariah were given the opportunity to become the parents of the Forerunner of Jesus; the one who would become the preacher to prepare the people's hearts to be ready to respond to Jesus.

On our Second Sunday in Advent our gospel story reminds us of the pivotal part of the plan that John the Baptist played in preparation for the first Christmas. John could have refused God's call, as folks often do. However, John embraced his calling and played out his role with great dedication. He never submitted to the secular calls for him to let up a little in his direct message. He knew what God's will was for his life and he fulfilled it against all opposition. Of course, as the story unfolded he was beheaded by a sinful ruler and a wicked woman who conspired to destroy him; but, John never relented. John is the ideal role model for anyone who takes up their cross to follow Jesus. We can never compromise our integrity, or our message that is the Christmas story of Glad Tidings of great joy for the potential for conversion and reformation for all.

Christian laypeople and clergy are still called to set the stage for Jesus' coming. We are given the opportunity to prepare our hearts to receive the Savior so that we will be ready for His return. Or, if we are not in life whenever His Second Coming occurs, we will be able to celebrate with the Church already in Heaven.

Advent is not only a time to focus on ourselves and our own little decorated Christmas Trees, but to look beyond at a world of precious human beings who have not had the opportunity to respond to God's Plan of Salvation. This Holy Season is much more than sharing material presents, or even far more than exchanging greetings. Christmas is a time to sing about salvation and celebrate God's victory which is being won through our ministry of continuing John the Baptist's call for response to people everywhere. Christmas is a time of giving to our church, friends, family and with those unknown.

John's message was a call for readiness and repentance. To repent is to turn from the dark, ugly and filthiness of evil to the bright, beautiful, and cleanness of God. Repentance, conversion, is to turn in the opposite direction in which we have been going.

Since Atlanta has the worse traffic in the United States, we are familiar with getting lost and turning around in order to get back on track. One day I counted one hundred steps from the Interstate Connector to the corner of our church property. We have learned which lanes to get into to find our way to our beloved church. Of course we are all very tolerant of folks with out-of-state tags weaving from lane to lane trying to correct their direction (HA!). However, sometimes even we veterans of the eight lanes running wild get blocked by others into the wrong exit lane and end up going in the opposite direction. The good news is that we can change directions. We can negotiate the exit ramps and make the proper merges back into traffic and go back in the correct way. That's life! That's similar to what we do in spiritual repentance! Repentance is not just for the first time tourists making their maiden voyage through the city. We all need to dive deeper into prayerful self examination and listen to God's directions.

The folks who went down to the Jordan River to hear the sermons of "John the baptizer," responded in mass. Many later became Jesus' first disciples. Soon, they made up the five-thousand who heard Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and followed Him down the dusty trails of Palestine to Calvary and beyond. Today, we continue in the long line of those who have said yes to Jesus call for repentance, new life and discipleship.

Readiness and Repentance are the main ingredients in our preparation to receive the Christ Child, and to share Him with others. Advent/Christmas is the annual pep-rally to prepare and rededicate Christ's Church to gear up and get going in our mission to tell the true story about the Babe of Bethlehem.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

12/8/02, A2B