2nd Sunday in Advent
December 9, 2018
“Prepare the Way of the Lord”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read from Luke chapter 3.
My dear friends,
The world gets ready for this season on one level, Christians on another. The world gets ready for just one great big blockbuster of a day on Christmas, kind of an annual consumer feeding frenzy, indulging itself in stuff and more stuff. Then when it’s over, it’s over. And all that’s left of Christmas on December 26 is a big pile of wrapping paper and trips to the store for after-Christmas sales.
Not so in the Church. For us, when Christmas comes, it stays. It lingers on through Epiphany and all the way clear through till Lent. We continue to ponder the great glad news that God has become man to redeem all humankind out from under the iron grip of death and hell. And we will sing our Christmas praises well into January and beyond. We make Christmas last.
But actually Christmas hasn’t yet begun; we’re still in Advent. We’re still getting ready. Yet our readiness is much more than just sending cards and decorating our homes and going to parties. It is a readiness of the heart that God desires at his coming. That’s why our Advent prayers include the petition “stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son.” Prepare us to prepare the way of the Lord.
In our text, we start down the road toward a prepared heart through the prophet John the Baptist. He is the very prophet whom the Lord appointed to clear the way for his coming. And believe me, he prepared the way. No pulled punches, no political correctness, with John, and no tiptoeing around for him. He marched right in where angels feared to tread and laid it on the line to all who heard him: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v 9). Yup…that’s pretty direct; no pulled punch there.
That’s a little unsettling, if we have the ears to hear it…and maybe it should be. And it should be. For the sad truth is that more often than not, you and I don’t produce the good fruit our Lord expects. We simply don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength, much less love our neighbor as ourselves. Despite our best efforts, there are those we have hurt and those we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires are soiled with sin.
That’s how preparing the way for the Lord’s coming – Advent – begins. The way of the Lord is the way of repentance (3:8), meaning “to turn.” That is, it calls for change. A change of mind and heart and behaviors.
Not that such a change comes easy, mind you. It means the death of the habits of the sinful heart. And such habits always die hard. It’s always much easier to love and serve ourselves than it is to love and serve God and our neighbor for Jesus’ sake. It always comes naturally to the sinful heart to lash out with anger when we’re hurt, to return evil for evil, to repay injury with injury. It is much easier to cut down other people than to love them and build them up. It’s easier for the sinful heart to curse and swear, to lie and deceive by God’s name, than to pray, praise, and give him thanks. That’s why the Christian life is a life journey of constant repentance, a perpetual preparing for change in mind and heart.
And that road often takes some unexpected twists and turns. It might take us through some rocky terrain and rugged territory, dark places we would rather not go. The road of faith may lead us out into unfamiliar and uncertain places which can be frightening but also rewarding. Many people are familiar with the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” that ends with the line: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Such is the way, the road, we walk; not always the same as everyone else.
But we are not alone even there. The very God who washed away our sins and gave us life will not abandon us in those uncertain times. He who gave up his life for us on his cross and shed his blood to wash our robes and make them white will never let us go. “My sheep know me,” says Jesus, “and I know them. And they follow me. And I will give them eternal life. And no man will ever snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:1–15). The path you walk might seem rugged at times and very steep, the pathway long and hard, but it is the path of the Lord’s own choosing for you…never forget that.
Let’s stir up our hearts this Advent season. 2018 is almost over. It’s time for a change, a new way. Let’s lift up the valleys of our deep despair, bring down the mountain peaks of your anxiety, and straighten out our crooked ways to prepare the way of the Lord. What does this mean? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?
What this means for you I cannot tell. It means different things for different people, depending on who they are and where they are in life. You can tell that from John’s instructions to those who heard his preaching. For tax collectors, the way of the Lord meant to be honest; for soldiers, it meant to be content and not take what didn’t belong to them. For everyone, it meant generosity and mercy, giving food and clothing to those who had none, for Jesus’ sake.
So get ready. Prepare the way of the Lord. Get ready for Christmas most certainly, but above all else prepare your hearts for the coming of Christ. Prepare yourself to prepare the way of the Lord. Celebrate the reality that Christ comes this very day in his Word and Sacrament to make you new and whole and free. Let this be your constant Advent prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” May God truly renew a right spirit within us this Advent, this Christmas, the coming new year, the coming end of the age, and always.