Do you know who Paul D. Irving is? Does that name ring a bell?… He has quite an important job. In fact, whenever he functions, people stop to listen.
Paul D. Irving is the Sergeant at Arms of the United States House of Representatives. He is responsible for the safety and security of the members of congress, any visiting dignitaries, and tourists. He’s in charge of ceremonial duties involving funeral processions and presidential inaugurations. He restores order if a congressmen gets disruptive. Perhaps he is best known for announcing the arrival of the President to give his State of the Union speech.
If you have ever watched a State of the Union speech, you understand how important of a job he has. All the members of congress and senators stand in their little cliques scattered around the chamber, chattering and laughing, (head-)nodding and waving. No one pays attention to the time on the clock or who is entering or who is leaving the chamber. Everyone is focused on their conversation. Then, suddenly, Paul D. Irving enters the chamber and shouts: “Mister Speaker, the President of the United States!” and everyone snaps to attention.
That’s a pretty important job, isn’t it? Mr. Irving prepares people for this great speaker. He announces who is coming so that people are prepared to listen and take the President’s words to heart.
During this Advent season, God prepares you to meet Jesus, your Savior. He wants you ready to listen and take Jesus’ words to heart. And so, God sends out messengers with his simple message: The Savior is Coming! Prepare your heart and Prepare to meet him.
That is an important message— and a message meant for everyone’s attention. So, God promises: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way… The “you” (in this prophecy) refers to Jesus; people will benefit from someone announcing his coming. Why? Well, remember, Jesus does not start his ministry immediately. He is born Christmas Day. Angels announce his birth. Shepherds rush to worship him. Wise men come a few months later with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Elderly-believer Simeon praises God for allowing him to meet Jesus. A prophetess named Anna thanks God for the gift of a Savior from sin— but that’s it. For 29 years Jesus remains in his hometown of Nazareth, being a respectful son and working as a carpenter. Twenty-nine long years pass between Christmas Day and the time Jesus starts preaching and teaching.
So, can you imagine the reaction if Jesus suddenly appeared in the in the synagogue one day, stood up, and started preaching? People there would ask: “Who is this man?” “What gives this man the right to preach?” “Which priest gave him authority to teach?” Most of all, “Should I listen to him?” No one knows if this man Jesus is God’s long-promised Son. And if no one knows Jesus is God’s Son, then they have no pressing reason to listen and take his words to heart.
So, God sends a messenger to prepare hearts for Jesus. He sends John the Baptist, the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ In ancient times, before a king traveled down a desert road and into a new region, he would send servants ahead to fix the road. Those servants would fill in potholes and places where the road washed out. They would remove boulders and level cliffs and steep hills. They made the road straight so that the king could arrive. Yet, John the Baptist is not sent to fix roads; God sends him to prepare hearts because the Savior is Coming.
Have you ever received a gift for which you saw no need? (For example), when I was a kid, someone always gave me a keychain as a gift— which a kind thought, but I had no use for a keychain. Unless you have a house key or car key, it’s a pretty useless gift. If you consider a gift useless, eventually you toss it away and forget about it.
If a heart sees no reason for a Savior, then the heart will have no reason to listen to the Savior. And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the message for all people of all time— you and me included— “Repent!”
“Repent” means to turn around or change. It has this picture of making a U-Turn (a 180-degree change of direction). If you are heading north on US-127 and make a U-Turn, then you have completely changed direction; you are now heading south. If you behave one way in life and “repent,” you are behaving in an entirely different way. Repenting, that is, living a life shaped by God’s Word prepares hearts for the Coming Savior.
Yet, how often our hearts fall into thinking that repentance is not necessary. Instead of comparing your heart to God’s Word, it feels so much easier to justify and defend the way you (and I) behave. God makes it clear: Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37), but greed feels good. So, make excuses as to why you cannot give an honest offering to God. Defend and justify your expenses so that you can cover up your love for the things money can buy. Trust yourself when you are scared, worried, or anxious. Believe the reasons that you cannot pray to God: “I just don’t have time.” “I’ll try to fix it one last time, then I’ll pray.” Make excuses as to why you cannot trust God to keep his promises: “I’ve been waiting a while and haven’t seen my health change.” “I don’t think God is overly concerned about my feelings of depression.” How the heart defends and justifies its actions! Justify the reasons as to why your relationships do not need to match up to God’s directions for relationships. “I know God wants sex in marriage, but that just doesn’t work in this world anymore.” I know God wants me to forgive and let go of grudges, but that other person would just walk around all smug if I forgive him.” “My friends do not deserve my kindness; they hurt me too much.”
God gives clear commands as to how you (and I) are to live. When we fail to measure up, it’s called “sin” or “transgression.” You (and I) have not done what God demands. The trouble is, so often our hearts want to make sin “small,” meaning, thinking our transgressions are no big deal, thinking our failure to be perfect holds no eternal consequence. Yet, if you make sin “small,” then you make Jesus “small.” If you (and I) think sin is not serious, then you have just said, “Jesus’ death on the cross was unnecessary. He did not need to suffer and die for you because you did nothing wrong.
If you consider a gift useless, eventually you toss it away and forget about it. If a heart sees no reason for a Savior, then the heart will have no reason to listen to the Savior. And that heart will be completely unprepared to meet the Savior when he comes.
That is why God sends out messengers with his message: to prepare hearts to (1) listen to Jesus’ teachings and (2) take them to heart. And so John comes—not with words that he thinks you need to hear, not with a message he wrote down, but with a message God himself put into John’s mouth: “The Savior is Coming!”
John points you to the Savior who has come once already for your benefit! Jesus lives prepared to stand before his God and Father. His life always matches what God expects. So, he loves his God with all heart, mind, and soul. Never once does he try to hold a grudge. Never once does he try to excuse himself out of worship. Never does his heart need to repent and change its behavior. Instead, his heart is perfect!
Jesus marches on ahead of you—to prepare you to stand before his God and Father. His innocent blood fills in our spiritual potholes. His perfect life levels our self-trust and arrogance. His perfect heart makes our hearts perfect. Jesus prepares your heart for his second coming.
Yes, the Savior is Coming again. This time not as a little baby born on Christmas Day, but rather to come and bring every believer home to heaven. The Savior is Coming! and your heart is prepared for that great day! Live now prepared to meet him!
Prepare to meet your Savior by taking the words of God’s messengers to heart. Yes, those Pastors God has given you. These messengers do not create message of their own. Rather, they bring the life-saving Word to you. Listen to the Word of God read Sunday mornings. Listen to the Word of God applied to your life. Take those Words to heart, letting it expose error and redirecting you on a God-pleasing path. As you make it your habit to connect yourself to God’s Word in worship and personal reading, you increase your knowledge of what God calls “right” and “wrong.”
When you recognize when you have done wrong, like those of years past, confess your sins. Recognize the loveless words, the careless actions, the self-centered thoughts. Do not defend them. Rather, acknowledge them as the wrong they truly are. Hear God’s gracious forgiveness—that he does not rush against you in anger. Rather, he declares you “Forgiven” because Jesus has lifted off those wrongs. Now forgiven, live a life which continually turns from evil and delights in God’s commands.
You can— and you already do that— because God has filled you with the Holy Spirit. At your baptism, plain water ran down your head. Yet, God attached a promise with that water-- You are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That “in” means God has put his name on you. And if God has put his name on you, then it means your identity is: “Child of God.” And if you are a child of God, then it means you are different from a “child of the world.”
You will stand out in this world. How can you not? Your heart delights in living in a way pleasing to God! So, you set aside an honest offering for your God—not because you must, but because God set aside the life of Jesus for you. You seek to forgive others—not because you fear being punished, but because God, in Christ, forgives you! Your friends, neighbors, and family may think marriage is not necessary or feel it is acceptable to abuse their bodies. Yet, you shape your relationships around the Word— because God has made your body his temple.
You live a life of repentance— that is, acknowledging the wrong and delighting in God’s good. Through God’s Word and God’s sacraments, the way into your heart has been prepared. The King of the universe sits in your heart reigning and ruling. You are prepared to meet the Savior.
What an important message that is! During this Advent season, God prepares you to meet Jesus, your Savior. He wants you ready to listen and take Jesus’ words to heart. And so, God sends out messengers with his simple message: The Savior is Coming! Prepare your heart and Prepare to meet him.
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