Listen here: http://www.trinitylutheran.org/sermonarchive/prepared-for-christ/
If John the Baptizer had a favorite Christmas Carol it would perhaps be Joy to the Word. John doesn’t always seem like a joyful character with all of His repentance, root cutting ax, unquenchable fire and brimstone, threshing floor preaching that he did in the wilderness. For as cutting as John’s message of repentance was, it was all about preparing the way for the savior and in Joy to the World, we sing: Joy to the world, The Lord is come, Let Earth receive her king, Let every heart Prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing…
At this time this perfect time in history determined by God, John was singing. Into the midst of a quieted time where expectant waiting was not exactly on the front of everyone’s mind. Sre some were in expectation and were questioning in their hearts whether John was the Christ, but John’s message of Advent (Coming) was not about himself but about the one greater than him, whose sandals he was unworthy to untie.
Let every heart prepare him room was John’s message. He proclaimed this word given to Him by God with words from God that had also been given to the prophet Isaiah (40:3-4). John was the voice literally crying in the wilderness, crying out, “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.” (Luke 3:4-6)
This message was preached to a brood of vipers who somehow came within earshot of Jesus. This was a group whose fruit bearing was suspect and who leaned heavily on their ancestry as their assurance of salvation. This was a crowd looking for something, this was a crowd who needed to know how to live and through the mouthpiece of John God gave them not only directions for living but the source of life.
Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was the message from John that echoes through the ages and this sin bearing lamb was the joy to the world that prepares hearts prepares room in hearts, this lamb is the one who went the way to prepare the way for us all.
We too have a brooding tendency toward sin. We have hearts weary and heavy laden. Sometimes admittedly, sometimes comfortably burdened with all sorts of things that keep the lamb from making a home within. We too have been given to flee from the wrath to come and we too have suspect fruit being borne in every moment of our lives.
Our crooked living is crying out to God to be made straight. We are bent away from the intent of our creator who made us in His image. Marred by sin we struggle to be anything close to straight. Our crooked ways devise to get more, to achieve better, to accomplish for our benefit and to straight up ignore the needs and pains of others around us. We put on our Sunday best and gather here. We go forth from here feeling better not acknowledging the source of all is outside of us. We beat around the bush with one another not cutting to the quick our need and the one who fills it. We live confident in ourselves thinking our paths are being forged by our innate powers and self identified purposes. Our crooked paths keep us from walking in the way we are called to live and into this life of ours, the message still comes, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make His paths straight.”
Our hearts are filled with pits and valleys. Pits of pain and despair from a longing for acceptance and belonging. Our sorrows overwhelming and real become prohibitive potholes keeping to ourselves our burdens and pains keeping others out and precluding the savior from having a comfortable home within us. Valleys in our lives can be anything from things that have been done to us by abusive others in our lives to regrets and feelings of filth from failures and follies from days gone by that have hurt our God and others. These low places in our life need filling and we often try to gloss over them with seasonal asphalt that temporarily fills the potholes only for a moment. But like the valleys — the pot holes filled around us, as soon as the distracting season passes and the weather changes we are beating ourselves up again. Yet the message from John still comes, “Every valley shall be filled”
Yet as low as parts of us are other parts within us are stronger than mountains. These lofty mountains of our lives would have us believe that we are able, we are strong enough. We are unbreakable and no one is going to cause us harm. Anything that could or should hurt us will just be ignored and deflected because we are in this fight and we are strong enough to overcome. Yet these mountains in our life of self will not stand the wrath to come. The one word that can move the mountain into the sea is waiting to be spoken and when it is our foundation of pride and self saving confidence will crumble. To these foothills and peaks, the word of John still comes, “every mountain and hill shall be made low.”
In the midst of our valleys and mountains we continue living as if we have not been given a command of how to live. We pretend that if it is not hurting anyone else, it cannot hurt us. We lust in secret believing a cleared browser history is the same as a clean slate. With all our might we seek after the riches and comforts of this world, believing that with enough stuff and enough saved we will be kept from demise. We foolishly wag our tongues about the foolishness of others around us. Not satisfied with helping and defending our neighbors, we delight in the demise of the ones we are called to save. This crooked living we have leaves us labeled as crooks and to the crooks of his day and to the crooks of today, John’s message cries out, “the crooked shall become straight.”
So much is uneven in our rough living. We would rather have a rough go at it than an even keeled existence. Our conversations rather than patient and bearing with one another in love become defense contests to save ourselves from mistakes we may have made or may have seemingly made, but all this self saving keeps us embittered toward one another rather than loving one another. These rough places of our lives need to become level ways.
If all this seems like too much for us to overcome, then you are correct in assessing the situation. The valleys and mountains, the crooked, rough roads of our lives are leading to destruction. These Valleys and mountains and crooked rough roads will be burned up. This sort of living will be cut off and thrown into the fire. Yet to hearts like this John preaches, prepare.
Prepare the way of the Lord. The hearers of John heard the preaching and they heard the cry that the Lamb of God had come to take the sin of the world. These confident in their own living and standing and ancestry saw the lamb of God and believed him to be the enemy of everything they held important. They prepared the way for him alright. The way the sinless spotless one was given by those who were to receive him was to put Him to death on a cross among crooks. So too our response in the face of truth is to hide. We want to fill our own valleys, we want to keep our mountains strong, we want to straighten ourselves out we want to smooth out our rough ways to say we have done it.
God isn’t leaving it to be done by you though. God has seen the track record of humanity and he knows that prayer will be belittled and thoughts of deliverance will be laughed at. If you want things to be better, you have to make it better on your own. If you want the broken to be fixed, you better research and reach out in action to make it happen other wise things are never going to get better.
Yet if things were able to be made better by we who mess them up, we would have no need to greet the savior. But God knows best and God knows how. His salvation has been revealed for all to see.
At just the right time, God sent His son to be born of a woman to be born under the law and he perfectly held to the law. Perfectly loved and perfectly lives so that we too can live. “All flesh will see the salvation of God.” Confronted with salvation God does one more thing for us he makes us straight. By the work of the Spirit within us we who would be crooked become straight with God. We tell him how low we are how big we try to be how crooked we have behaved and how rough it is. God hears our prayers. He hears our needs and he tells us the good news.
John’s message wasn’t only fire and brimstone. God’s message isn’t just fire and brimstone. Like 3:18 tells us that with many other exhortations John preached good news to the people. This is the good news God has for you today. Jesus Christ the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. God sent His son Jesus to be Immanuel, God with us, God with us in the valleys of our lives. In the midst of abuse the spotless lamb is along side us receiving blows and beatings. He is in the low points of our lives not abandoning us to the shame of things done to us and things the things we have done. God has sent His son Jesus the cornerstone to provide the foundation for us to build on when our mountains fall. All the things that are too tall for us to climb or take down on our own, he has owned. He has moved our mountains of pride into the depths of the baptismal sea, drowning all that would fall down on us that we may rise with him. The crooked places of your lives — the divergent behaviors and detestable moments you wish or delete away have been pinned to the back of the one who could do something about it. Everything rough about us has been made right as the Lord Jesus walked the rough road for us not leaving us to watch but bearing us through the hard moments and the unfairly fought fights.
Through all this the Lord has gone for us. Jesus went to the cross, He went to the place prepared for Him not by the crowds but by the divine foresight of the Father who desires not the death of you. He wants us so badly to be prepared for forever with Him that he devised to punish His perfect son in our place. And His perfect son was not left to death and so too we are not left to die but instead have life forever with Him. The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has prepared the way for you. And now as we approach the celebration of his first coming we eagerly prepare by turning to the Lord who can and has made us ready for Him.
So ready we can say come quickly Lord, Jesus! And while we wait we live as God’s good soldiers of the cross. We give to those in need around us. We take no more than we are authorized to take We don’t extort as we fight for the Lord we are content with our earthly entrusting from the father, even as we are content with our eternity with Him.
For all this our savior has come and our savior is with us until he comes again delivering us to forever with Him in His home prepared for us. Let every heart prepare Him room. He has done it.