Monday, February 09, 2009

Advent Sermon 12/14/08: When Jesus Comes to Town Part 2: "Preparing Your Hearts for Christmas"

“Preparing Our Hearts For Christmas”

Mark 1:1-4

We are in the season of Advent now and we are talking about how to be prepared for the coming of Jesus. Last week we talked about Preparing our families by taking time to share the world of God with our families this Christmas season. Today, I want to talk about preparing our hearts.

I am sure you will agree with me that home ownership has its fair share of hardships. Over the past couple of years, I have learned a lot about owning a home, like never call a plumber unless you really need one because the last time I did it, I was charged $200 for a 10 minute repair.

A while back, Melanie and I noticed that when she would do laundry there would be suds that would bubble up in the back yard. I decided that I would take a look at the pipes and try to figure out what was happening, so I dug a hole and discovered that the PVC pipe that comes from the washing machine drain was running into a field line that just ended somewhere in my back yard. The problem was that the black field pipe was getting backed up, causing the water to run out the wrong end of the pipe.

A little while later, we discovered that the water was backing up so much that it was coming back into the laundry room. After a number of consolations with other guys who have all given me slightly different advice, I decided that I would fix the problem myself. I began digging a large hole at the end of the field pipe a couple of Mondays ago in the freezing cold snow. If you can imagine the scene my neighbors witnessed, you can only laugh. They must think I am going nuts.

I was able to lay a new field pipe down and put it in gravel and fill the large whole with gravel so that the water now has a place to drain. Apparently the people who first put this line in did not realize that dirt will stop up wholes and prevent proper drainage. Now, hopefully, the new line will drain properly. In Mark’s gospel we also see a charge that we are to make a clear path for God when he comes into our lives.
In Mark’s gospel, he begins the book by saying,
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" " a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Unlike any the other two synoptic gospels (Matthew and Luke) Mark does not begin with the birth stories of Jesus. He simply says that the good news begins as it is written in the Prophet Isaiah. The particular passage is from Isaiah 40:3, but if we were to examine it closely, you will notice that the passage Mark quotes is longer that what we have in Isaiah 40:3. Notice:

Mark 1:2b
"I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"
Malachi 3:1 "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.”

Mark 1:3 a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "

Isaiah 40:3 A voice of one calling: "In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God

If you look close, you will notice Mark has added something to the beginning of the text, which actually comes from Malachi 3:1, which reads “"I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” Let’s put these two verses together to understand what the beginning of the good news might be that Mark is trying to tell us about.

Christmas as a Life Changing Event

In Malachi 3, we read that the messenger will come to prepare the way before God who will come to the temple and purify the people until they present offerings to God that are pleasing. Malachi has been saying that the people are corrupt and the priesthood is corrupt due to injustices and to idle worship. This is causing the offerings that are made to God be corrupt. This messenger will then prepare the people for God to come by changing their heart so that the offerings in the temple will be pure.

The Isaiah passage, as Dwight pointed out a couple of weeks ago was written to people who were in captivity. They had seen their homeland and the temple destroyed. Isaiah says that their penalty has been repaid. God will then reveal his glory and the Lord’s people will see it. God’s people should then make prepare the way for the Lord to come.

By Mark drawing these two passages together, I believe he is trying to say that God is sending a messenger to the people so that they can prepare themselves because God is about to do something amazing. Mark is saying that the good news begins by God sending a messenger ahead of us to prepare the way for what God is about to do. In Mark’s gospel, as well as Matthew and Luke, this messenger is John, who comes to proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

One of the things I love so much about Advent and Christmas is that it reminds me that God is in the process of doing something great. When we celebrate the “good news that a child was born” we are celebrating the fact that God broke into human history in the form of a baby in the manger. When we celebrate Jesus’ birth each year we are saying again that God is still in the midst of going something great in our world.

I think we too often get accused of thinking too much about Jesus and the little baby at Bethlehem, but the fact is I think we actually think too little of him. Seldom do we see his birth as life changing for us. We find the story cute and warm, but it never goes any deeper. More than that, we seldom believe that this baby is life changing for us and world changing for those around us. I think it is time for us as Christians to really believe in Christmas. It is time for us to believe that God is ready to change the world. I time for us to believe that God is ready to change us.

Cleaning Up Our Hearts for the Coming of Jesus

When we look at the Isaiah passage again, we notice that Isaiah says when the Lord comes, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Traveling is difficult if the terrain is rough or extremely unlevel so the smoother the road, the better.

When God comes, we should make the road clear for his coming. John Jewell says it well in his sermon, “Preparing”,

The way for God to come into our lives should be on a road that is clear of debris and easy to traverse. It should not be "an uphill battle" for Christ to gain entrance into our lives. …. John’s call to repentance is a call to turn away from everything that clutters the highway of my life and to raise the priority of my relationship with the Lord during this season.

Preparing for Christmas should involve preparing our hearts so that we can experience all that God has in store for us.

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