Prepare The Way
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading - Matthew 3:1-12
Have you ever had the whole family coming for Christmas, and had to do a lot of cleaning? Just throwing everything into one room or cupboard and closing the door won’t do, as everyone is going to be in the house for a few days? It is time to clean everything out properly, to get ready. This seems like a good exercise for advent, as it serves as an illustration for our lives with God, and gives us a hint of what the prophet, John the Baptist, was talking about. We are getting rid of the rubbish to make room. Cleaning out all that is unnecessary.
Lets look at John the Baptist.
John was described as “The voice of one calling in the desert, “prepare the way of the Lord”. Now, one of the wonders of the Greek language, which Greek students hate, is that it has no punctuation. So, this sentence either goes how I have just said, or it goes like this: A voice of one calling, “In the desert, prepare the way of the Lord”
Prepare the way of the Lord in the desert.
Does that make sense? What would the Lord be doing in the desert? Well, it would have made sense to the Jewish audience that John had on that day.
In the desert areas around Jerusalem, traveling was not a great joy. There weren’t really any roads, there were mostly dirt tracks. There were bandits and wild animals, sudden storms in the hills, and many bad things that could happen to the unwary traveler. To get to Jerusalem from most places, you had to go through these desert areas.
But, the greatest of the kings of Israel, King Solomon, had a Basalt causeway laid leading up to the entrance to Jerusalem, to make things a bit easier. This was known as the King’s highway and was his property. Whenever he was to travel, the word went out to “Prepare the way of the king”, and to make straight the paths further out in the desert. Does this sound familiar?
People would be sent scurrying to get things in order. The rough places would be made smooth, rocks and boulders would be moved out of the way, there would be a general spring-clean. They would get rid of the rubbish. All because of the coming, or advent, of the king.
Well, now we can see how this applies to us. We are in our advent, expecting the coming of our king. So where for us is this desert that John was talking about? Well, let me ask you, does anyone out there feel a bit sandy at the moment, a bit dried up and rocky? This can be a stressful time of year.
That beautiful old carol “Joy to the world” says “let every heart prepare him room”. That is where our Lord is coming to, our hearts. Does that mean our hearts are a desert? Do the roads need grading? And if so, how do we prepare his path?
How about you? Does your heart feel like a desert sometimes?
That is up to each person to answer. Each person knows what is in their own heart. Our Lord arrived on earth about two thousand years ago. When we celebrate that coming on Christmas day, will he find no room on the highway to our hearts because of the rocks of argument and resentment? Have the thorns of anger or grudge-bearing choked the way of the Lord? Those thorns grow fast, don’t they? We just seem to get rid of them and they are back. Are there too many other things in the way this Christmas, too many things we feel we have to do?
A lot of other things are important, too, at this time of year, but if they get in the way of what Christmas really is, then they too are rubbish. Rubbish that chokes up the way of the coming Lord.
John told the Pharisees and Sadducees how they could prepare the way of the Lord, how they could purge all the rubbish and get their lives with God in order. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Turn from your sin. That is what repentance means, to turn around, turning from sin back to God. A 180-degree shift.
Sounds tough, doesn’t it? Well, don’t worry. You have already done it this morning in the confession. You acknowledged before God that the highway is choked with rubbish, and he swept it clean with the grader of his holy Absolution, with the words that your sins are forgiven.
Even when it doesn’t mean much to us, when we just mechanically say the words, God still forgives us, because his words always do what they say.
But if it bothers you that you might not have really thought about it this morning, if you still have something you need to sort out with God before we celebrate the coming of our King, I challenge you to really think about it next week when you come to worship. Lay your heart open before God, because he knows what is there anyway. Let go of those things that are cluttering up your heart. If it really, really bothers you, then go and talk to you your Pastor, and confess privately to him.
When we are told to prepare our hearts for the Lord, our Lutheran ears prick up and say, That’s works righteousness! We can’t do something like that. But that is not the case.
It is because we already know our Lord that we have the privilege to be able to throw ourselves open to him, so that he can prepare us for his coming. Then we are bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. Let him sweep the highway to your heart clean, and then what a joy you will have, to know that you are forgiven, you are right with God, and, as John the witness to Christ, told us, your king is coming, Amen