Let us pray: Dear Savior, You came to us in the manger for one reason: to comfort Your people amid all their afflictions. That was Your goal and purpose in leaving heaven and being born. Today, as we walk toward the manger, remind us that our chief goal in life should be to prepare our hearts to properly meet You—in both humility and faith. For only then will our Christmas be merry. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: Mark 1: 1-8
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Well, we’ve begun our holiday preparations! Last week we cut our tree from a local grower and it now sits in its stand sucking up water. We have yet to decorate it.—Perhaps later today we will. But, it hasn’t mattered since it is beautiful to look at just the way God made it.
Have you begun your Christmas preparations? I’ll bet you have. I’ll bet you took advantage of low prices and bought a few gifts, perhaps purchased your tree, are planning menus, and have even started decorating. Good for you! But, have you left out the most vital preparation of all? Have you been working on preparing your heart to meet the Christ Child? Well, that’s what Advent is all about. So, it’s good that you’re here today. And to speed that process along, today I want to talk to you about:
THE MOST IMPORTANT CHRISTMAS PREPARATION OF ALL
Since Jesus was born about 2012 years ago in 4 BC—due to a calendar change in the Dark Ages—and burst on the scene beginning His ministry about 26 BC, were the common people of Judea ready? Were they truly prepared for His awesome message of: “comfort” for down-trodden sinners? Well, God saw to it that they were! He sent John the Baptizer among them that very year to prepare their hearts to meet the Christmas King.
John isn’t alive today to preach to us. But his message is. He lives on through the living Word of God. He lives on through the message God ordained through Isaiah the prophet about 700 years before John was even born. John and Christ are the fulfillment of that message of comfort, peace, hope, and joy. “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’—a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Note well that John’s message of preparation was to: “prepare the way of the Lord.” That Lord is Jesus Christ. That Lord was his 2nd cousin, the son of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. That Lord was and is the eternal Son of God. He was and is the One Who caused John to leap in Elizabeth’s womb for joy when the pregnant Mary went to visit. Do you leap for joy when you contemplate Christ’s coming at Christmas? Do you leap for joy over His coming to you when you’re reminded of your baptism? Do you leap for joy when you hear Him pronounce you forgiven? Do you leap for joy when He seeks to dwell within your very body when you commune? I hope so. For it is the same Jesus that John met and later pronounced to the world.
This Christmas season is like every other Christmas, with one exception. That is, the uncertainty of the world seems a bit more real and closer to home than in the past. Every day we’re bombarded with bad news about the economy, job losses, the high cost of education, war, terror—the list is almost endless. Amidst all this, it is easy to overlook genuine Christmas preparations. But, we shouldn’t. We need joy and gladness more than ever! We need God’s comfort more than ever! And in Christ we find it and we have it.
John preached repentance as the way to straighten out human hearts. We need to focus on the exact same thing. Repentance is sorrow over all sin and a turning to God in faith and trust. It is the focusing on His goodness above all else. So, by letting worldly troubles dim our joy of Christmas, we’re really falling into the trap of despair. We’re letting man’s inhumanity crowd out the message of comfort and joy in Christ. I’ve allowed myself to fall into that trap and I’ll bet you have, too. What’s the way out? Repent of that shift in focus and refocus on the love that Christ brings, both in the manger and in His forgiving love. We need to remember that forgiveness is more important than anything else in life. It is God’s eternal gift to us in Christ. Yes, it is the one thing that can never be taken from us—even when we die.
John’s austere clothing and his simple diet were living reminders that all the baubles of this life pale in comparison to the riches of Christ. But most of all, his humble heart was a living reminder that true Christmas preparations are really all about the heart. Listen to John’s words and you can literally feel humility ooze from them. “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Elsewhere, Christ says of John: “No greater man has ever been born of a woman.” What a tremendous compliment! And why do you think John received such a compliment? Isn’t it because he practiced what he preached, prepared his heart, emptied it of personal pride, and clung to the forgiveness of Christ above all things?
The question is: can you and I do the same? Can we have the joy and singularity of purpose in life that John possessed? Yes we can! It’s ours via the most important Christmas preparation of all! It’s ours through repentance, humility, and confidence that Christ loves us more than He loves Himself—and that He proved it by giving up His life for ours and then rising from our graves so that we will too!
Has Jesus fulfilled John’s prophecy about baptizing us with the Holy Spirit? Has Jesus poured out the Spirit’s unchallenged power upon us? Yes indeed. He gave the Spirit to the Christian Church at Pentecost. He gives Him to you through your baptism. He has made you His direct descendant, an heir of eternal glory by working faith in your heart.
Today, you and I possess all these gifts and more, the more being the other gifts of the Spirit. One of those gifts is: joy. Since you already have it, work on banishing uncertainty and worry from your heart. Lay aside the problems of earthly life and focus on the Christ Child Whose face literally beams with joy as He gazes upon you. Amen