ADVENT: Getting Ready For Christmas

 

Text:  Matthew 3:1-12

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

For about 11 years I worked in management for a drug store company called Osco Drug. It was a good job and I enjoyed pretty much everything about it at first. It was great to work with the employees and customers and I especially loved training and customer service, even when it seemed the new employees were struggling to learn and the customers were a little bit grumpy. I was in my element and I looked forward to each new day.

But as I made my way up the management ladder, it became more about the inside jobs like scheduling and ordering and hiring. It took me away from the customers more and more. It’s amazing all that goes on behind the scenes.

Ordering new products was challenging because you were ordering so far in advance of things. Christmas was especially challenging because you had to order in April and the first of the merchandise was already coming in, in June. Right next to the Summer wrapping paper was a display of all of Hallmarks new Christmas ornaments….IN JUNE! It seems every year, the Christmas season gets earlier and earlier. Chalk that up to consumerism.

That’s probably one of the reasons I made the rule of no Christmas music or present requests or Christmas decorating or even ho, ho, hoing until after Thanksgiving. I like to take my holidays one at a time.

Lately it seems some parts of society have become addicted to Christmas. Now, I’m not judging anyone who has their Christmas lights up in August or those who’ve already bought their Christmas gifts a month after the last Christmas. I’m not criticizing anyone who has five inflatable lawn decorations up already in November or have fake Christmas trees because real ones don’t last three months. I’m just saying, there is a time for everything and my time for Christmas isn’t until after thanksgiving.

So, after Thanksgiving, our house is full of decorating frenzy. I have been asked to stay away at these times because, apparently, I get little antsy with all the activity. So, I find other things to do while Cheryl and Emily decorate. I have to admit though, I really like the results every year.

For them, much of the excitement of the season is in the preparation. They want to make every Christmas even more special than the last. There is no question that when Christmas comes, we will be ready. At least for the celebration. It’s my job to remind everyone that getting ready for Christmas is more than just the commercialism that goes with it.

Are you ready for Christmas? I’m sure most of you have a start on the decorations and the purchasing of gifts, but have you started your journey with Christ this Christmas? Have you prayed for His coming? Are you prepared to make your main focus, the real reason for this season, the promise of the Christ child?

Normally when one is asked this question, they have to take a step back and admit that getting caught up in the commercialism of it all is too common for us. It’s easy to get caught up in the pageantry. When we’re hanging lights its almost natural to get lost in the competition of Christmas. When we wrap our gifts it’s more likely we’re hoping we got the right gift for someone then we are about carrying the right attitude for Christ. On our checklists for Christmas, how many of us have included special devotion or prayer time related to the miracle of Jesus’ birth?

This Sunday, we hear the familiar story of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord. It always seems a little odd that we are speaking about this as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child, but a closer look tells us that Christmas is about more than the Christ child, it’s about the coming of the Savior. John was preparing his people for the reason that the Christ child was born, to save us all from sin and death. The person who was born to save the world would now be making his presence known. The Messiah would start the ministry he was born to lead.

So, let’s once again take a look at the man who was to prepare the way for the Lord. In studying this section of Scripture, one finds four key themes present. Included in John’s ministry was his attempt to prepare the people for the Christ. In doing this he urged those listening to repent and confess. And finally he asked them, in his rather direct way, to produce or to “bear fruit” in keeping with that repentance.

We celebrate Advent as we prepare the way for the Lord and His coming. We eagerly anticipate when Christ comes again in glory and with the hail of trumpets. But how does one properly prepare for such an occasion?

When we think about preparing for Christmas it in variably includes Christmas Trees and Gifts under that tree. But, in reality, there should be one thing we prepare for before anything else. You need to prepare the house to be ready for the frenzy. The tree has its spot but it takes some rearrangement of the furniture to make it work. The Thanksgiving decorations need to be put away to make room for the Christmas ones. In order to put in the new you must dispense with the old.

Believe it or not, this was John’s message. In order to be ready to accept the new, we must deal with the old.  John was the one who was prophesied to be the, “Voice of the one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight.”

In other words, deal with the baggage you have been carrying, all the worldliness you have held so dear. All those things that have to be rearranged so that you have room for Jesus Christ in your life. Make the distance between you straight and not curved around the things you place between you and Christ so that you might get to enjoy as many of your worldly desires as possible before He gets to you.

Isaiah 26:7 says, “The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. In the path of Your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you; Your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.” In other words, Trust fully in Christ, and He will make straight the path between you. Allow the Spirit of Jesus Christ to clear the paths of sin and the stumbling blocks of unrighteousness so that His distance to your side is the shortest distance possible.

By telling us to prepare, John is announcing the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords, so we must be ready and prepared to receive Him. And how do we begin this process?

We use the wonderful gift of confession. And in that confession, we must include the true wish for a changed heart in repentance. Unfortunately, for many of us, confession is one of those things that has almost become too easy. The confession that John calls for is more than just a list of the places you messed up. It includes a sincere desire for change and the calling on the Holy Spirit for guidance to that end.

To confess means to acknowledge that there are parts of your life that don’t allow Christ in. These are the unprepared places in your heart that have locked Him out or kept Him at a distance. Those places we cherish filled with our sinful desires. Confession, by its very definition, means to bear the soul of all those things that we have allowed to get between us and our full faith in Christ.

We don’t confess because God doesn’t already know. We confess so that we might begin the process of transformation, as we also acknowledge those places in our life where change must happen to take full advantage of all the wonderful gifts Christ is offering us by His presence.

1 John 1:8-9 says that, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

If we want to get over our addiction to sin, we must first admit we have a problem. If we yearn for the righteousness that only comes from Jesus Christ, we must be prepared to shed the unrighteousness we have within us.

And with his call to confess, John cries out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The confession that John calls for has to include a willingness to put sins behind you. Where confession acknowledges the sin, repentance promises a parting from that sin.

Let’s say two brothers are playing with their new toys after Christmas and one takes a liking to something the other brother has been given. He grabs it and is immediately greeted with a right hook from the owner. You hustle over and shout, “How many times have I told you to quite hitting each other.” The owner of the right hook comes up and says, I’m sorry mommy.” What do you do? You forgive him of course. But let’s say the right hook is still working and he hauls off and hits his brother again. Is he getting in trouble? You bet. And this time probably worse.

This shows us the difference between simple confession and absolution. The confession was easy and worked for a while, but the intention was never to change. As soon as a little time had passed, they were back to their unrighteous ways.

To repent means to stop the process of that sin. To stop the move toward temptation. To remove those things from your life that cause you to sin. It means a change of life so that a better life can be yours and the distance between you and Christ might be eliminated.

So often we confess the sin, a sin in which we are truly sorry to commit, but again and again it shows up because we have not made the final decision for change. Repentance requires a change of heart. An uncluttering so that their might be room for Christ in your life. If we are to properly prepare for the coming of the Lord, we must do so with out the sinful desires we hold so dear.

And finally, we must “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” This is the next logical step of preparation we must make if we truly want our home to be ready. This fruit is the sign of a changed heart. It is the evidence of faith and the confirmation of our commitment towards righteousness.

Instead of bearing fruit that is too rotten to harvest, Christ asks us to bear the good fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the fruits that come naturally to one who has rooted their lives firmly in Jesus Christ. These are the fruits that produce a harvest of righteousness that will lead us all the way to heaven.

Think about it even in our world. If we have been hired to do something, we are expected to do it to the greatest of our abilities. Well, God expects no less than our best either. In fact, He expects perfection. That’s why He gave us the great gifts of confession and repentance. He knew we would need help and He found the perfect way to do it. He wanted us to be free to produce fruit in keeping with that repentance.

That is why He sent His Son that very first Christmas day, so that we might have a chance to be transformed into the image of that Son free from sinful desire and unrighteousness. So, bear the fruit that comes by way of the Holy Spirit’s work within you. Prepare your home for the arrival of the King.

So, I ask again. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to welcome the Savior into your lives in a close-up and personal way? If so, then let the preparation of your souls begin. Welcome Him with a clean heart. Confess to Him your shortcomings, cast away those places in your heart that block the pathway into it and start bearing the fruit of the Spirit’s work within you. Let us all make our paths straight and our houses in order to welcome the King of kings and Lord of Lords. Amen.

 

 

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