Prophetic Preparation - Luke 3:1-6
It was the night before final exams in the classic 90's sitcom Boy Meets World. Eric was in the college library with friends trying to cram in a night of studying. Everyone was stressed out and getting mad at each other, and Eric who is both very foolish and very wise in his own way, told everyone to stop studying and throw their left shoe into the center of the library. Then he told everyone to grab a shoe, find out who’s it was, and take that person to the movies. The next scene shows everyone the next day having done well on the test. Everyone except Eric. Mr. Feeney commends Eric for his advice to his peers, explaining a research article which showed that studying without taking time to relax can hurt grades. So Eric’s advice worked for everybody. Except Eric himself failed his tests because he didn’t do the studying part; he just did the relaxing part. Mr. Feeney reminds him that proper preparation is important.
That’s what today’s Scripture readings are all about: preparation. The world needed proper preparation for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. So John the Baptist was called to prepare the way. He’s the messenger foretold in Scripture who would prepare the way of the Lord. His father Zechariah was so full of hope in the song we read as our canticle this morning. Hope that Israel would be set free. That the coming Messiah would change the world. And that Zechariah’s own son John would be the one to prepare the way for all this to happen.
The world needed preparation for Jesus the Messiah. Throughout the Bible, God’s people went back and forth from being unfaithful to God to being so overly zealous that they turn into unmerciful hypocrites. By John’s time the Romans were occupying Jerusalem and the nation of Judah. The temple establishment and the puppet king, Herod, were doing whatever they could to keep Rome happy and remain in power. And the people were all across the spectrum about how to respond: some were disillusioned, some were ready for violent revolution, some were hopeful for the Messiah to come and set things straight. John’s mission was to prepare the people, to lead them in being purified and cleansed. To invite them to participate in a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Perhaps John’s biggest mission was to prepare the people for a spiritual Messiah, rather than expect a political one. Or perhaps it was to initiate the practice of baptism. Or maybe it was to get people used to the idea of going out into the wilderness to listen to a messenger from God. Perhaps a combination of all the above.
Whatever the necessary preparations John laid were, the world clearly wasn’t ready for Jesus. But perhaps they were just ready enough, because of John the Baptist. We know some of Jesus’ first disciples were originally disciples of John. John laid the groundwork for Jesus’ mission and ministry, and in this season of Advent when we prepare ourselves to receive Jesus at Christmas, it’s important we reflect on the ways John prepared the world for Jesus 2000 years ago.
In this season of Advent, this season of preparation, we not only remember the historical reality of Jesus’ being born in the world; this season is also a period of preparing our own hearts to receive Christ now. Not just remembering how he was born 2000 years ago, but preparing our hearts to receive him today.
How prepared are we for Jesus to come? Are our hearts pure, loving, and gracious? As the hymn Joy to the World says: “Let every heart prepare him room.” Have our hearts prepared him room? I suspect all of us have something inside our hearts and minds that makes us unprepared to have Jesus there. We’re often controlled by fear and desire. Greed or selfishness. All that sin dwelling just beneath the surface that makes us realize just how unworthy we are for Jesus to be born in us.
And when we think about the state of the world it becomes even more hopeless. Is this world pure, loving, and gracious enough to hold Jesus the Messiah? Imagine what will become of him if he comes to this world as an innocent, helpless baby. We know what happens—Herod tries to kill Jesus in the first days of his life. and Jesus and his parents have to flee as refugees to Egypt to escape. And eventually when he grows up, pure and innocent Jesus will die a brutal death by crucifixion at the hands of this sinful world.
Yet it was into this sinful world, that was so unworthy to receive him, that Jesus Christ came. And it is into our hearts—unworthy though they be—that Christ comes to dwell. Because Christ’s coming is not about our worthiness but about God’s love for us. God’s love is the reason Christ came, not our personal worthiness and not our world’s worthiness either.
And because of Christ’s coming into this sinful mess, an amazing thing happens. Christ takes up residence in our hearts, hearts once ruled by fear and selfishness, and goes about the gentle work of healing and transforming them. Cleansing us. Purifying us. Helping us grow up into the mature children of God we were created to be.
It is the Spirit of Christ at work in us, not anything we did to earn it. God comes to us at Christmas not because we are worthy and not because we are prepared. As today’s readings demonstrate, even the preparation part is God’s doing. In the end, it is because of God’s love for us that Jesus Christ came into the world, and that Jesus Christ continues to be born in human hearts.
So this season of Advent, remember the paradox that we are called to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming, and that even the preparation part is God’s gift to us. There’s nothing we can do to fully prepare ourselves, but we can still wait and pray for the Spirit to come and do God’s work in us. You can trust that the Spirit is at work in you, tilling the soil of your heart and preparing you for Christ to be born in you.
And furthermore, trust that this world—a world still so full of sin—is being prepared by God for Christ’s presence to be all in all. It may not yet be prepared for the glory to come. But trust that no matter how bad it looks, God is at work—tilling the soil of creation, planting seeds, and helping it grow into a world that reflects the goodness and love of God. The good and love of the baby born in Bethlehem.
Thanks be to God for the gift of preparation and for the gift of Christ’s coming. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 12/5/21