Messenger Prepares the Way
(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.”
Prayer: Infinite God, thou who stepped out on nothing and flung the stars into space, and thou who stepped down the stairway of heaven with a baby in your arms; Come now and give us open ears to hear your Living Word, amid the clamor of all else that threatens to undo us.
Marilyn and I recall how we prepared our home to receive our babies as we were going through the nine months of expectancy, for both Lyn and Candi. We turned sparse spare bedrooms into bright and beautiful nurseries, all filled with decorations and things of wonder. We scrubbed the baseboards, painted the walls and purchased the best Jenny Lind crib we could find. We recall spending half a day making sure we were selecting just the perfect mattress, not too soft and not too hard. We were ready for the babies.
John the Baptist’s message of good news in preparation for his cousin Jesus’ coming was a call for readiness and repentance. To repent is to turn from the dark and dirty of evil to the bright, beautiful, and cleanness of God. It is to do a complete 180 degree turn in the opposite direction in which you 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. I-75 and I-85, two of the busiest interstate highways run night and day just a couple hundred yards from our church, and just a mile south of our church the Connector intersects with the busy Interstate Highway 20. I have pretty much learned which lanes to get into to follow my chosen path, but to first timers it is a maze. 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 old veterans of the eight lanes running wild also get blocked by others in the wrong exit lane and end up going the opposite direction than we desire. 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 old veterans of the expressway wars of life continually need to dive deeper into prayerful self examination and put on our hearing ears to listen to God’s directions and. We never outgrow our need to find the right way. Sometimes the roads are under construction, and sometimes there are detours.
The folks who went down to the Jordan River to hear the sermons of John the Baptist, or “John the baptizer” in our NRSV, were mostly the good folks who went to synagogue and thought they were OK, until they really heard their Divine Creator boom forth with a clear call to repentance through His Messenger John.
Repentance is the main ingredient in our preparation to receive the Christ Child. John came ahead of Him to prepare the hearts of the people to receive their Messiah. And many heard him and cleaned up their lives. Many of them were probably the ones who later 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.
Many of us are preparing our homes to receive special guests during this Christmas Season. Our trees are decorated, wreaths are on our doors, bright lights are in our windows, and our homes are spotless and ready for the coming of friends. Wouldn’t it be great if we would also find time to get off alone to pray and repent in order to prepare our Savior room in our hearts? Lets wash away the dirt and clean up our hearts and minds.
Marilyn and I watched a PBS program on “Memory” a few weeks ago. I cannot remember all it said, but one thing that we both liked was the observation that as we age we develop “memory overload,” much like our computer’s hard drive when it stores too much random and unnecessary information over the years. Our brains have a way of deleting the unnecessary stuff and that is good, for it allows room for new ideas and fresh information, which we all need. This preparatory process of repentance is somewhat like cleansing our computer’s cache.
We all need to take another look at our lives--- to absorb some new information. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go down to the river and hear the good news and be made fresh and clean? The Good News is that we can. We are living in the age when the Father that sits upon the throne and sent his Son to save us, has come as the Holy Spirit to be our helper. We can receive the Holy Spirit’s fresh cleansing at this time and in this place! As John prepared the way for the Messiah, Jesus’ death and resurrection has prepared the way for the baptism of the Spirit.
Today is the day to prepare Him room in our hearts!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor