Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. Luke’s gospel account the third chapter (Luke 3:1-14).
Beloved in the LORD,
As Christians we are bound to the Word of God. The Word is our light and our life. The Word of God lays bare the heart of God that we may know with certainty His great love for us. The Word teaches us to walk in straight paths and to lead lives worthy of our calling. The Word is our bread and our drink. Every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is food for the heart and soul of His redeemed.
Therefore we Christians are found where the Word of God is preached. This morning we find the Word coming to John in the desert. So into the desert the Spirit take us that we may hear, and believe, and repent and be saved. He takes us into the desert lands of Judea, near the River Jordan. He takes us where there is no bustling city life, where there are no dazzling street lights, where the night life creeps with stinging creatures and biting beasts. There are no carols playing in the background. No one greets us with “Happy Holidays”. There are no sales, no great deals, no business transactions whatsoever. In the Desert, there is nothing – nothing that is except the Word of God coming to John the son of Zachariah.
John is the preacher of God’s Word this morning. He is the messenger of the covenant who is to prepare the way before the LORD. Jesus is coming!! And preparations need to be made. We need to be ready lest we meet Him with unprepared hearts, hearts like the inn at Bethlehem, hearts with no room for Jesus.
Therefore John preaches, “Prepare the Way of the LORD. Make His paths straight. And all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.” John preaches the Word in the Desert that we may not grasp the charisma of the man, nor the grandeur of the landscape, but rather set our hearts upon the LORD who seeks us and our salvation.
But what does it mean to “Prepare the Way of the Lord.” We hear the word “prepare” and immediately we think of cleaning the house, or rearranging schedules, or dressing up our children. We think of all the necessary food preparations, for surely there will be a meal. And with a meal that means we dust off our good china and neatly set out the silver. We get out all our table decorations. We do our best to put on our best. That’s what we think of when we prepare to meet somebody special. That’s what we think it means to be ready and to prepare.
Sadly too many of us think that is how you prepare to meet Jesus, by putting on our best for Him, as though we’re that “little drummer boy” playing our best for Him “par rump pum pum pum.” We treat advent as though our best, our preparations, our decorations – whether it be our house, our family or our lives- are what Jesus is looking for when He meets us. Beloved, we don’t prepare to meet Jesus like we’re going out on a first date. He’s not that kind of guy. He’s not that kind of Messiah. He’s not that kind of God.
The Pharisees did their best to dress themselves for the coming Messiah. And they knew it. And they were proud of it. And they enjoyed the oohs, and aaahs, the adulation and the adoration of the crowds around them. They prepared for Jesus’ coming like one would prepare for Caesar’s coming.
But Jesus is not Caesar. And His herald does not trumpet His advent through the city streets of Jerusalem. He is not coming to look for your best whether it be your children all dressed up in new clothes, or your schedules neatly rearranged according to your holiday time off, or you homes nicely trimmed, or cookies and milk left out on Christmas Eve. He’s not looking for any offerings from you, offerings that would appease Him. That’s why the Word is in the desert. That’s why we go into the desert with John. There’s none of that in the desert, no place for it, no need for it. Our works, our adornments, our festive makeovers have no place before the Son of God. So what do we find in the desert? We find John, preaching the Word of God, “Prepare the Way of the LORD.”
And preparation is made with repentance. That we might truly sing, “Joy to the World” on Christmas morn, that we might “meet” the Lord aright, the heart must turn from sin, surrender its pride, acknowledge the LORD as both creator and redeemer. For our God is nothing like Caesar. He’s nothing like Pilate, nothing like Caiaphas or Annas or Peter, or John, or Oprah, or Mr. Osteen, or Ms. Meyers. Our God receives sinners, broods of vipers who have been cut down by the axe of the Spirit and who despair of their sins, despair of their failing glories, despair of their strengths and merits.
Repentance is heeding the Words in the desert and facing up to the truth, facing up to the cross! For Judgment is coming and Judgment happens, judgment happens to the Christ! And unless you meet the Christ beneath the cross, you shall not meet Him at the tomb. Sinners need a crucified God. I need a passion filled Jesus, one who takes my sins, suffers my death, and crushes my demons with His pierced feet. Unless He do that for me I am lost. For these I cannot cover over with my own works. I cannot hide them with a happy attitude. I cannot wish them away with pleasant sounding bumper sticker theology. Jesus is more. Jesus has done more, more for me and more for you.
Thus repentance leads us out to the desert and into the waters. There we find God’s grace giving us the cross of His Son. There, in a holy fount, the river of God washes away my sins, your sins, the sins of all who are baptized. There, I meet my Jesus. And I meet Him well prepared. For He is there with His Word. He is there with His cross. He is there with His resurrection and He gives gifts to me. Though I owe Him all that I am, He gives me all that He is! He takes my heart of stone and gives me a heart of flesh. He dresses me with His righteousness. He bathes me with His blood. He anoints me with His heart! All that is His becomes mine. And all that was mine, is left in the water, buried beneath the tide of His passionate suffering, death, and resurrection. Here, in my baptism, I meet the God who is for me that I may now live for Him.
Thus when the crowds cry out, “what must we do?” John tells them. He sends them back to their vocations; moms and dads, soldiers and tax collectors, all who have come to be baptized. The same is for us as well. There is a place for works, but not in the desert, not as an offering of appeasement to our God. That’s not how we meet Jesus. He meets us, forgives us, cleanses us, renews us and then sends us on our way to serve Him.
You will leave here with your sins forgiven and your heart prepared for the coming week. You have met the Lord, and by faith received from Him His good gifts. Now He sends you back to your vocations. Now He sends you back to your neighbors, your families, your friends, all those whom He places in your lives. He sends you out to love and to serve in righteousness, not your own, but His. You are His messengers in the city streets. You are His heralds in the town square. You are His epistle in the marketplace. You are His heart in the home and His hands in the neighborhood. You don’t take but you give. You don’t curse but you bless. You don’t withhold your bounty but you are gracious and hospitable. You don’t seek revenge but offer forgiveness. You don’t indulge in man’s perverse festivals, but rejoice that God would deign to become a child for you and for the world.
Therefore do it all with joy and gladness in your heart. Serve Him in the sure confidence of His forgiveness. Be eager to suffer for the sake of your calling. Be ready to labor, and sweat, and pray, and bear the cross for the sake of someone else, everyone else. For you need not bear it for yourself. That has already been done for you. You now share in the sufferings of Christ as you bring the message of Christmas, the story of the cross, and the victory of Easter to a world looking forward to “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Now beloved, we must depart the desert and return to our stations. In the desert we hear God’s Word and make ready the way of the LORD. In baptismal grace we depart this place as new creatures and we go back into the land of Caesar, and Pilate, and Herod, and all those who are “out there”. And so we go “out there” but we go “out there” as God’s redeemed. We have met the Christ, by faith, we have met Him aright. And He would meet them as well that they may have their hearts renewed, refreshed, redeemed by His grace. Therefore, dear Christians let us go back into the city, back into the malls, back into the workplace, and let us go with Christ in our hearts, His Word on our lips, and His mercy in our deeds. Let us go and Let us wish the world, not a “Happy Holidays” nor a “Happy festivus” but a “Merry Christmas”. And maybe, by God’s grace they too shall come to the desert and hear the WORD of God for them and be saved. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!