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Advent Preparations December 7, 2014

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Luke 3:1-18

Advent 2

December 7, 2014

 

Focus:  God sent John the Baptist to us to lead us to repent.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their sins.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Advent Preparations

 

Prepare, prepare, prepare…that’s the message during this busy season of Advent isn’t it?  There were the preparations for the Thanksgiving get-togethers with family, all the food that had to be prepared, the people to invite.  And then immediately afterwards, there were the preparations for the shopping season.  Perhaps you’re the kind of person that looks through all the ads and puts together a master list.  Or maybe, like Pastor Fritsch and many other men, you’re the hunter, where you go in, direct route planned, you make the kill finding what you wanted, and boom, you’re out of there and headed home.

Then there’s the lights, the tree, the Christmas cards, the cookies, the pies, the fruitcakes, the gift wrapping, the photo sessions, the 25 days of Christmas on TV.  We have to prepare!  We have to prepare our families and our homes for Christmas.  And then, much like Thanksgiving, we have another family feast to prepare for.

As we gather together during Advent, we have our eyes fixed on a target.  Our eyes are fixed on the arrival of a baby boy, born in a stable, laid in a manger.  And in some ways, you could say all of our festivities, all of our preparations are like a baby shower.  Most all of you have been to one of those, even the men as there’s a trend today leaning towards couples’ showers.  You prepare food, decorations, gifts, games.  Lots to prepare, lots of fun together.

And while all of these things are good, they’re not the reason for the season.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to spend time with our families.  The traditions at this time of year are blessings to our homes.  The spirit of giving to others for many is alive and well.

But, Advent isn’t a baby shower.  We aren’t preparing ourselves for a baby boy to be born in Bethlehem.  That ship set sail a long time ago.  Even as we do everything that we do to celebrate Christmas, it’s not just a history lesson.  Sure, we’re looking back, but we’re also looking forward.  Celebrating the birth of our Savior that morning in Bethlehem is a great way for us to focus on our relationship with God.

If we look to the prophet John, we hear his call for preparation.  But it’s not the same as the day when he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the arrival of Jesus.  Here we are some 30ish years later, and John has work to do.  He’s been set apart, he’s been called by God to serve a specific purpose.

The words he’s been given to speak come straight from the prophet Isaiah.

 

“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 shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

 

But what does that mean?  What are these prophets talking about?  What does it mean to fill valleys, lower mountains, make paths straight?  Take a moment with me and actually visualize this.  If we’re at the Grand Canyon, and I’m on one side, and you’re on the other, how can reach each other?  We have to do all the legwork of going all the way around the Canyon.  And if you swap that out for the Rocky Mountains, we’d still have to go all the way around.

When I was a kid growing up in St. Louis, we had a highway that reminds me of this.  It was called Old Highway 21, but it was better known as Blood Alley.  For a two-lane highway, a place where you’re going 50-60 miles per hour, it snaked its way through the countryside.  And it wasn’t just curves, but hills too.  And around every curve, there was a hill in the way, so you couldn’t possibly see oncoming traffic.  Because of the dangerousness of this highway, from the windy to the ice, to the lack of visibility, the nickname was fitting.  Many people died on that road, and still do.

But a few years ago, they decided to finally replace it.  And just nearby they constructed New Highway 21.  It’s four lanes…and it’s straight.  Traffic accidents have greatly decreased.  And time is saved as well, as the quickest trip from point A to point B is a straight line in between.

So if you build a straight new highway, or if you fill in the Grand Canyon, or level the Rocky Mountains, suddenly obstacles are removed.  What prevented us from getting from one side to the other is no longer in the way.  We can move freely from point A to point B.

You see, John has been called for a special purpose.  He’s not just a preacher, he’s a prophet. God has sent him with the message of repentance.  Our sinful lives are what stood in the way. Sin separates us, distances us, from God.

Sin among the people is what John is talking about.  So he immediately says to the crowd:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin 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. 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.”

 

Wrath is coming.  The axe is laid to the root of the tree.  John the Baptist has been sent to call the people back to repentance, to restore their relationship with God.  The Rocky Mountains, the hill to be leveled, you could call those the 613 laws the Pharisees had set up to follow.  Those were dangerous, those prohibited men and women from coming to know God.  Having grown tired of waiting centuries for a Savior, was a valley that needed filling for many.  Coming up with strange ideas of what their Savior would do for them, perhaps riding in a chariot with an army at His side, crooked paths in need of straightening.

“So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.”  But he had just talked about repentance, about wrath and judgment, about a Savior equipped with a winnowing fork to work the threshing floor separating chaff into the fire.  How is that good news?  Where is the joy in that?

But it is there.  It was there on Christmas morning, and it was there the day John was speaking with the crowds.  You see, in the midst of our sin, in the midst of our wickedness and separation, God still loved His people.  God still provided for His people.  He was prepared to do what needed to be done.  He was prepared to offer His Son as a sacrifice, as a guilt offering for us.  And so He sent His Son Jesus Christ, out of His great love for us, He sent Him into this world as a little baby.  He sent Him into this world to do what we can’t.  To die for us.  And that’s good news.  That while there is a judgment, through Christ, we might be spared from it.

And even though it may be difficult sometimes, repentance is a joyful thing, too.  Remember the prodigal son?  The boy who ripped his inheritance away from his father, squandered it all away, and then came back to dad looking for food?  Was that a sad day in that household?  Far from it!  The father rejoiced, ran to greet his son and threw a large party to celebrate his return.  We’re also told by Luke that there is rejoicing among the angels every time a sinner repents.  There is joy in repentance, because in repentance relationships are being restored!

So as we prepare this Advent season, what do you need to do to prepare yourself, not for Bethlehem, but for the return of Christ, for Judgment Day?  What are the valleys in your life that need to be filled in?  What are the mountains that need leveling? The paths that need straightening?  What is separating you from God in your life, in your home, in your family, in your work?  Take the time this Advent season.  Find them, fill them, level them, straighten them.  Prepare yourselves for your Lord and Savior’s return.

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