Sermon: Make Ready

 

[This sermon was originally delivered on Sunday, December 5, 2015.]

This morning I invite you to open your bibles to Luke chapter 1. Luke is in the New Testament, the third book. Luke comes after Matthew and Mark, and before John. Luke chapter 1, beginning in verse 1.

You may have noticed last week that the front of the sanctuary has changed a bit. We’ve added a wreath with candles, and the colours have changed from green to purple. We’ve entered the season of Advent, a time of preparation. As we journey through Advent this year, we follow the story of John, a man who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, our messiah.

Before we hear God’s word this morning, please join me in a time of prayer.

Father, may your Word be our Rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

Hear the word of the Lord from Luke 1.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,

    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us

    in the house of his servant David

(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),

salvation from our enemies

    and from the hand of all who hate us—

to show mercy to our ancestors

    and to remember his holy covenant,

    the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,

    and to enable us to serve him without fear

    in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,

to give his people the knowledge of salvation

    through the forgiveness of their sins,

because of the tender mercy of our God,

    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

to shine on those living in darkness

    and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. (Luke 1:1-25, 57-80)

These are the very words of God. Thanks be to God.

Advent is a season of preparation. We do a lot of preparing during this time of year. We put up our Christmas trees, decorate our houses with lights and tinsel, bring out the nativity scene. We may even have an elf hiding somewhere up on a shelf. We prepare food for family gatherings, and make sure there are gifts wrapped under the tree.

All this kind of preparation is fine and good, but that’s not what we hear about in our passage.

Make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 

Make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 

The words the angel Gabriel spoke to Zechariah, concerning his son, were that he would come to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

The coming of the Lord had been spoken of for hundreds of years. Israel had been waiting and waiting. From the time Adam and Eve were banished from the garden of Eden for disobeying God, they had waited for the day of the Lord to come. From the time God made a covenant with Abraham, promising to bless the world through him and his descendants, they had waited. They were led through the wilderness, brought into exile, ruled over by foreign nations. Through it all they waited.

The time came when Zechariah’s name was chosen by lot to burn incense in the temple. He too had been waiting — waiting for the Lord, and waiting for a child. He and his wife had been barren for many long years. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

He stood before the altar of incense, and there the angel Gabriel appeared to him. The waiting was soon to end. A son would be born. John. And he would prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He would turn their hearts, and make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 

Those words marked the beginning of the first advent — a time of preparation, a time to make ready. The wait would soon be over – now was the time to get ready.

But we’re not ready.

Even if we decorate our homes, set up our trees, wrap our presents, we’re not ready.

There never seems to be enough time to be ready for Christmas. For many of us, during the hustle and bustle of this season, we may find time to prepare the gifts, we may find time to prepare the tree, but we find it hard to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. John’s mission, John’s call, which is a call to us as well, is to make ready for the coming of God. And it is our hearts, far more than our homes, our yards, or our trees that need to get ready.

Make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

John is given this mission because we are a people who are not otherwise ready. It takes work. We are preoccupied with our jobs, school events, family outings, Christmas programs, shopping, and more. Our hearts are not ready for Christmas.

We might desperately want them to be, but if we are honest, Advent is often more exhausting than holy, more a time of busyness than true preparation. In the middle of this time, in the middle of these days, the angel Gabriel gave John a mission – to call all of us to prepare our hearts.

Make ready.

Make ready for what?

Let’s listen again to the Angel Gabriel:

He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

John’s mission, to make ready, implies that something is about to happen. To riff off of C.S Lewis, God is on the move. God’s about to do something big. John would go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him. The way must be prepared, because the Lord himself is coming.

John was called to bring back the people of Israel to the Lord. They had wandered away, had gotten distracted by what the world had to offer. John would turn the hearts of the people, unite the generations, in loyal and obedient service to God. John would give the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.

The people of Israel needed an advent season too. They needed time set apart to be prepared for the coming of the Messiah. We have four weeks, they were given the ministry of God.

God was coming. The people needed to prepare their hearts. They needed to turn back. They weren’t there yet. They needed to be brought back, and this requires forgiveness. A forgiveness that only God can give.

Make ready…

Make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

How? How could they, and how can we prepare our hearts for the Lord?

We can turn. We can turn our hearts.

Another word for “turn” is “repent”

Repent. Turn.

Listen again to the words of the angel Gabriel:

And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

We prepare by turning. The type of turning described in this passage is a radical change of direction. It is not just a slight correction of our trajectory, but a full about face. We were once facing one direction, but we turn and face another.

John was sent with one mission – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. And part of that preparation is turning – is repentance.

Christmas is a beautiful time for many people. A time of family, of love, of celebration. But it can also be a time filled with worry – about how we are going to pay for it all, about how we are going to get all the programs done, get the kids to all their concerts or all their relatives. The good stuff of Christmas can be so overwhelming at times that we can miss the heart of Christmas – Christ has come. Maybe some of us, maybe even I, need to turn from focusing on the ‘stuff’ of Christmas to the ‘who’ of Christmas – Jesus Christ born in a manger, the hope and savior of the world.

We all have things in our lives from which we need to turn, from which we need to repent. We all need forgiveness.

As we continue through this season of Advent, I encourage you to look at your heart. From which things do you need to repent, to turn away from? How can you make ready this Advent season?

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