The Second Sunday in Advent
December 10, 2023
The King Shall Come—
Prepare to Meet Him!
1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
3“a voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ”
4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (NIV1984)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It began in earnest last week and will continue for yet another two weeks. Brenda started her annual tradition of baking all different kinds of delicious Christmas cookies. We went down to Friedman’s and purchased a “fresh cut” Christmas tree. The Christmas decorations have been brought down from the attic above the garage. The grandchildren are getting ready for their Christmas concert and their Christmas party at school. Both children and adults are diligently learning their parts for the Christmas Eve service. Our church has been decorated for Christmas. Christmas cards are being sent out. Christmas presents are being purchased. Yes, my friends, I think it’s safe to say that our Christmas preparations are well underway! Or are they?
While it is very easy for us to see and to concentrate on all the visible preparations that we need to make for Christmas, all of it pales in comparison to the most important part of our Christmas preparations— the preparation of our heart! As we continue our sermon series The King Shall Come! let’s see how John the Baptist calls out to us from the pages of Scripture: The King Shall Come— Prepare to Meet Him!
While Matthew begins his Gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ by listing the genealogical record of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph, while Luke begins his Gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ by focusing on Zecharia and Elizabeth— the parents of John the Baptist, and while John begins his account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ by taking us all the way back to the beginning of Creation — “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”— Mark begins his account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ in a very succinct way, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
While the beginning of Mark’s Gospel account is very simple and very direct, he also makes sure that his readers understand that the “gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is in its essence the fulfillment of all the prophecies and all the promises that the Lord, the great “I AM,” had given to His people down through the centuries. He does this by citing the prophecy, the promise, that the Lord God gave to His people through His servant Isaiah, the prophecy, the promise that served as our Old Testament lesson for today. (Isaiah 40:1-11) God promised that He would send a very special messenger into this world, a messenger of God who would prepare the way for the Promised Messiah— “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
The sudden appearance of John the Baptist calling out in the desert of Judea shattered 400 years of silence from heaven. The people of Israel knew that the age of prophecy had ceased long ago, but the faithful remnant still cherished the hope that the Lord their God would fulfill His promise spoken through Moses, the promise to send the Prophet into this world. (See Deuteronomy 19:14-19) The appearance of John the Baptist confirmed that the fulfillment of that hope was now at hand.
John was a man who instantly captured people’s attention. John was a rugged preacher who wore rugged clothes— clothes made out of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. John was a simple man— a man whose diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. But most importantly, John was a powerful messenger with a powerful message: Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins!
The message of repentance that John the Baptist proclaimed to God’s people so many centuries ago is the very same message that God’s people still need to hear right down to this very day. In fact, John’s message of repentance is still the essence of what it means for us to prepare our heart to meet our King— whether we are preparing to celebrate His holy birth, or whether we are preparing to meet Him at the moment of our death, or whether we are preparing to meet Him on Judgment Day.
Since repentance is such a vital part of preparing to meet our King, we need to make sure that we understand what repentance is. Repentance is closely connected to confession. They are like two sides of the very same spiritual coin. Great King David helps us to understand what repentance is when he says in Psalm 32:5, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” In the New Testament the apostle John emphasizes that very same truth when he says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9).
Repentance requires that we confess to God that we have sinned— against Him. Now it certainly won’t surprise you to hear that sin is not a popular word, is it. Many people today reject the concept of sin as being old-fashioned. The Old Adam that lives inside each and very one of us will protest: Other people, like criminals, are sinners, but not “nice people” like me!”
A very good way to help us realize that we are indeed sinners is to simply listen to what the Almighty God says to us! He says, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 38). I certainly will not speak for you, but when I listen to what the God of heaven requires of me— I instantly see my need for repentance!
Praise be to God that the Child whose birth we are preparing to celebrate is also the King. This Child is the King who willingly came into our world as our true Brother with just that one goal— “To save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This Child is the King who has the power to say to us repentant sinners, “Take heart (My child) your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). This Child is the King who victoriously appeared to His fear-filled disciples on that first Easter Sunday and said, “Peace be with you!” Then He showed them His hands and His side and said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven” (John 19:19, 23).
As you and I prepare to meet our King, we also need to remember that repentance in our heart also leads to renewal in our life. Isaiah reminded us of this need for renewal when he said to us this morning, “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain” (Isaiah 40:3, 4). And here in our text for today John the Baptist reminded us of this need for renewal in our life when he said to us, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
Through the power of His Holy Spirit our God “smooths out” the “hills” and “fills in” the “valleys” of our heart and our life. Using the power of His holy Law He “makes low” the “hills” and the “mountains” of selfishness and hatred, jealousy and pride. Using the power of the glorious message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ He fills in the “valleys” of doubt and fear and “makes straight” the “crooked” paths of our life by guiding us with His grace and His mercy, His love and His forgiveness. While we will never reach perfection on this side of heaven, through confession and repentance, with God’s help and by God’s grace, we consciously strive to grow! Through confession and repentance, with God’s help and by God’s grace we follow the encouragement the apostle Peter gives to us, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
While repentance is indeed a very vital part of preparing our heart and our life to meet our King, we also need to realize that repentance is not something that we can do on our own! Repentance is not something that we have the power to produce. Repentance is the result of God coming to us! How does God come to us and produce repentance in our hearts? For most of us it all began when God came to us in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. When we were baptized in the Name of the Triune God, God the Holy Spirit came to us and made our heart His home! With God ruling as King in our heart He uses the power of His holy Word to guide and direct our life— and when necessary He leads us to repentance.
God also comes to us through the power of His holy Supper. When we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion with a heart that is filled with the repentance God has produced in our hearts, He assures us of His forgiveness by giving to us His true Body and His true Blood— the very same Body and Blood He sacrifice on the cross (Pointing to the cross) to guarantee that all of our sins are completely forgiven! When we listen to our God as He speaks to us through His holy Word, as we experience the God of heaven as He comes to us through His holy Sacraments, we not only realize our need for repentance, but we also rejoice in the repentance that He produces in our heart, the repentance that results in the renewal of our life.
Many of us understand quite well that there are many preparations that we need to make in order to be ready for Christmas. Either literally or figuratively we have a checklist of everything that needs to get done. That checklist might include: decorations, cards, gifts all the fixings for our Christmas dinner. My prayer this morning is that we will listen to John the Baptist and put repentance at the very top of that list. Without a heart that is filled with repentance we cannot be truly prepared to meet our King— whether it is at the celebration of His holy birth, or at the moment of our death, or at the end of the ages. With a heart that is filled with repentance then we are always prepared to meet our King— no matter when He arrives!
To God be the glory!