The Second Sunday of Advent December 6, 2009
58, 61, 63, 701 [TLH alt. 55]
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zecharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
In Christ Jesus, the Word-Made-Flesh and our returning Lord, dear fellow Christians:
“Company is coming!” Those three words, perhaps more so than any others, have the power to wake us up and get us moving. Add the information that it will be “soon,” and the effect is electrifying. Company coming means preparations. If they are from out of town and haven’t been to your home before, it means e-mailing instructions on which freeway exits to take and where your home is located. But the major work is right at home. There are menus to plan and sidewalks to shovel. The guest room has to be vacuumed and the bed made up. Not only that, all the clutter that gradually accumulates has to be put in its place or thrown out. There is nothing like company coming to cause us to look at our home and surroundings in a different light.
“Company is coming and He will be here soon!” was the electrifying message God sent John the Baptist to deliver. Christmas is all about God Himself coming to the world in Jesus, the Word-Made-Flesh. He has come. He still comes through His Word. He is coming again. How do you prepare for the most important Guest ever? Where do you even start?
Just as with other guests, it involves picking up, straightening out, and taking care of rough spots. Isaiah used those terms to describe John’s preaching. The picture is of making a straight, level road through the vast Arabian desert so that the Lord could come and deliver His people from captivity in Babylon. Every boulder would be moved out of the way, every pothole patched, and every washed out gully filled in.
At the right moment God did just that. He made a direct, straight road for His Son into the middle of a corrupt, dysfunctional political and religious scene in order to establish an eternal kingdom. But while there were plenty of things that needed straightening out in the world at large, God sent John especially to prepare individual hearts for Jesus. That is where the greatest obstacles and roadblocks lay. John told people who came to him at the Jordan to repent. He did not preach a feel-good message about how they were all children of Abraham and therefore God was smiling down on them. He did not praise them for their wonderful lives. Instead he warned them that the ax of God’s judgment was already raised and poised to cut them down at the root. He called their religious leaders a bunch of snakes. Their hearts were so cluttered with pride that there was no room for Jesus to get in the door. They were so confident of their own goodness that they saw no need for what Jesus was coming to bring. Their impenitence made them unprepared for the Lord’s arrival.
John’s call to repentance is needed now more than ever. Our world, though, wants no part of it. People like the celebrating associated with Christmas, but they don’t want to hear about their sin. Some try to cover it up or make excuses for it. Some even flaunt it and demand that the rest of us condone it too. They become outraged if anyone dares to call their attitudes and lives immoral or ungodly. Some take the position that God can accept me just as I am, or He can forget it. That is the same roadblock of impenitence, the mess that has to be cleared out of the way for Jesus’ arrival.
How do our hearts look? Is all the clutter picked up? Does Jesus have a nice straight path to us? Think of what happens in our homes. We do a thorough cleaning before company comes. We like how the house looks and we decide to keep it that way. But then over time things gradually revert to the way they were, don’t they? We don’t have time to read the newspaper as soon as it arrives so we put it on an end table to read later. You take an empty box out to the garage with the intention of organizing things later. Little by little the clutter begins to accumulate again without our even noticing—accumulating, that is, until company is coming.
The same thing can happen with sin. If we are not careful it begins to pile up and clutter our hearts and lives. Now is the time to take a good hard look and check for impenitence. Are there mountains of pride which need leveling? Do we find ourselves looking down on others because we feel we are better and holier? Are there canyons of anxiety which need to be filled in? Do you feel hopeless because you don’t think that even God could forgive your guilt? Have you followed the straight road of God’s commandments, or have you taken some crooked detours and fallen into comfortable pet sins which you haven’t been too concerned about? Are there potholes and rough spots like a quick temper, impatience, or love of gossiping about others?
Think of your life as a house. Are you ready to open the front door wide and have Jesus come in and go anywhere? Or do you keep the basement door closed and hope that He will not look in the closets or under the bed? Is God’s Word still the priority in our lives, or have we become comfortable with letting other things such as shopping, sports, or work come first? Do the movies, books, and music we choose reflect love for God, or do we automatically adopt whatever is popular at the time? Do we let God have the final word, or do we reserve for ourselves veto power? To be ready for Jesus’ coming, we need to take John’s call to repent seriously. We need to recognize that sin is a problem, not just for other people, but for you and me. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
But repentance is not only acknowledging sin, it is taking a different attitude toward it. By nature, as long as we can get away with it, we like sin. We resent God for trying to spoil the fun of indulging our own desires. Repentance is a change from enjoying sin to being deeply sorry for it. It is being so disgusted with it that you want nothing more to do with it.
Only the Lord can make that happen. When sin doesn’t seem so bad and we begin slipping into the mindset that we can compromise with the world as long as we don’t do anything too extreme, God gives us a hard slap in the face with the Law to wake us up. The Law warns us that any sin separates from God and deserves the punishment of Hell. “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). “The soul who sins shall die!” (Ezekiel 18:4). In Psalm 32 David speaks of how dangerous impenitence is: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4 NIV).
Company is coming! Jesus is on the way. Get ready with true repentance. Take time and take inventory of your life. Look at what God expects of you as a son or daughter, parent or spouse, a student or employee, a congregation member, a friend, a child of God. Recognize your failings and sins, and instead of excusing them, confess them to the Lord in heartfelt sorrow. Ask Him to fill in the valleys, flatten the mountains, straighten out the crooked, and clear the clutter so that we will be ready for company.
Do you like company? It depends on the kind, right? Would you look forward to a guest who barely steps in the front door before rubbing a finger along an end table to check for dust, or who complains that the temperature is 67 instead of 72, or who is appalled that a dinner plate has a chip? It’s impossible to satisfy someone like that and just the thought of a visit would be enough to tie your stomach in knots and leave you exhausted.
Jesus is just the opposite. He did not come to complain and condemn the world, but to save it. He is the Guest who walks in the door, rolls up His sleeves, and says, “I’ve come to pitch in and help. Don’t worry about the dirty dishes in the sink or the lopsided Christmas tree or decorations which are not quite perfect. Relax, and I’ll take care of everything.”
It is not that the Lord’s standards are so low. Nothing but perfect holiness is acceptable to Him. However, He did not come to demand that holiness from us, but rather to give us that holiness through His own life of service and obedience here on earth. He did not come to condemn us for failing the white glove test, but to wash us clean by His blood shed on the cross to fully pay for our sins. Rather than coming and expecting gifts from us, He came to give us the greatest gift of all.
Repentance is recognizing and being sorry for sin, but it also includes trusting in Jesus as the answer to our sin problem. John the Baptist preached a harsh message about the reality of sin and its curse. But when people were cut to the heart and came saying, “What shall we do?” John pointed them to Jesus. “Look to Him. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And then John baptized them for the forgiveness of their sins. If we argue, “I’m doing fine. I don’t need any help,” we lose the gift. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). David prayed: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). Literally, the Hebrew says, “Un-sin me….and I will be clean.” That is just what Jesus does!
Take a good hard look at every part of your life from top to bottom, basement to attic. Use the spotlight of God’s Law to look into every dark corner. Drag out all the clutter and garbage. Confess it to the Lord. Say, “It’s all mine, Lord, and there is still more that I can’t see, but which You know.” Then listen as the Lord replies, “It’s not yours any longer. It’s mine. I took it with Me to the cross. It was nailed there and buried with Me. It’s gone forever. You are clean and holy before Me.”
Company is coming all the way from His throne in heaven, and He will be here soon! May John’s call to repentance cause us to wake up and prepare for Jesus’ coming. May the Lord clear out all the clutter of impenitence, that we may welcome the salvation of God, the gift of a Savior for all mankind, including you and me! Amen.
Prepare the royal highway;
The King of kings is near!
Let ev’ry hill and valley
A level road appear!
Then greet the King of glory,
Foretold in sacred story:
Hosanna to the Lord,
For He fulfills God’s Word! [WS 701:1]
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.