Title: Prepare the way … for the kingdom of God is at hand!
Text: Matt. 3:1-12
3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
Several centuries ago, a Japanese emperor commissioned an artist to paint a bird. A number of months passed, then several years, and still no painting was brought to the palace. Finally the emperor became so exasperated that he went to the artist's home to demand an explanation. Instead of making excuses, the artist placed a blank canvas on the easel. In less than an hour, he completed a painting that was to become a brilliant masterpiece. When the emperor asked the reason for the delay, the artist showed him armloads of drawings of feathers, wings, heads, and feet. Then he explained that all of this research and study had been necessary before he could complete the painting.
Our Daily Bread.
As we prepare for the coming of the Christ child we joy in the wonderful voices of our children and youth as they together help us remember the gift that came in a manger and to prepare ourselves:
For the kingdom of God is at hand!
The story of John the Baptist is one of a herald (a town crier if you will) who calls sinners to repentance preparing the way of the Lord. This time of year should bring us all to remembrance for what … and for whom we wait.
John was quite the character as our reading describes:
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
The call to repentance for and by John was not a teaching ministry. He was not called to pastor the Judean countryside. He was a herald proclaiming what God had given him. To call to repentance all who would hear, repent and believe that, This (Jesus) is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
The call for this second Sunday in Advent is much the same. Prepare is the word on our advent banner this week. But, what do we prepare? Is it the decorations on the house and on the tree? Is it all the gifts that we need to buy and cookies that need baked? Is it traveling plans and vacation daydreams that drive you? How about the 8-10 nativity sets Monica that and I put up? I think we actually have 12?
The truth is you all get pulled to something and you prepare for something. Only you know what that is. But the call of john the Baptist is to you and it’s to me too. We are called to repent and look to the one who came to breathe life by His Spirit into those, who like the people called by John himself, recognize that the kingdom of God is at hand.
This past week the talk online and at home was about the death of the actor Paul Walker in a fiery car crash. I knew who he was, though I didn’t know much about or watch the movies he made. It seems ironic that his movie, “The Fast and the Furious” from 2001 began with a story line of street racing and now a high speed crash has taken another life in his prime.
All I’ve read about Paul and after watching a clip of an interview with his dad talked of a loving man who cared for his family and friends and who would go out of his way to be accessible to his fans. One comment after the interview with his dad was quite poignant:
“His Dad had no idea that last Christmas was actually going to be the last Christmas with his son. We need to love the ones close to us because no one knows how much time they have. We make plans for this year and next year.... and the ones we love are always in the plans. Mr. Walker Sr. is having a Christmas this year he never planned on. I am sorry for their loss.”
Prepare the way … for the kingdom of God is at hand!
John’s call to repent and to prepare was effective preaching. Jerusalem, Judea, and the entire region about the Jordan were going out to him. Prophets sent from God like John are called to speak forth what God has given and called them to do and they received a washing of repentance in John’s baptism. This call to repent was different from the one day, the collective Day of Atonement where confession of sins was publicly confessed. This was spontaneous response by God’s word through John’s prophetic preaching.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
False pride in the Law and it’s keeping as was the M.O. of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were too rational to believe the inspired writings received rebuke from John. True repentance is a turning away from that which leads to death from our sinful condition and a return to that which saves.
9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Sin leads to death now and in eternity but repentance and faith by God’s Holy Spirit lead to life and life everlasting!
John’s washing was in preparation for the one who would come as a child. One who would ride into Jerusalem triumphant; one who would be tried and sentenced to death a death He didn’t deserve and one who as John said:
Is coming after me and is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Those unprepared will be cast into a Hell of their choosing; a casting, that upon Christ’s return will Fast and Furious!
But for you … who have come to faith; who have been given pardon; who see the Christ child and have been prepared by God Holy Spirit for His coming return in Judgment and Glory. You, His wheat, will be gathered into his barn, His house, his Kingdom … forever.
As our children blessed us with their voices in song I like to recite the final verse once again from the Christmas Hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born in us today.
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!
As you prepare all that needs done this Advent and Christmas season; Joy in the Christ the Son of the Living God who came to call you by His Spirit and redeem you by His word of forgiveness to be his child and with him forever.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.