Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8
(Quoted scripture is New Revised Standard Version)
Grandma took her little granddaughter Annie Christmas shopping, with the promise that if she were good, they would go to see Santa Claus after the shopping was finished. Little Annie dared not say she was ‘bored,’ which she was, she dared not say she was hungry or thirsty, which she was, she just patiently followed her grandmother from store to store. After watching her grandmother choose and buy gifts all morning, Annie was taken to her promised visit to Santa Claus. She politely made her requests for Christmas, and as she started to leave, the Santa handed her a large candy cane.
“What do you say?” prompted grandma. Little Annie thought for a moment, then smiled and brightly announced, “Charge it.”
I have a feeling many of us are saying “Charge it” at the stores or using our credit cards to do our internet shopping, as we prepare for Christmas. Many of us will repent after January 1st as we have to go the other way and pay for our purchases.
Christmas does require preparation if we want to be ready to celebrate with family and friends. The first Christmas took thousands of years of preparation. People, not credit cards, were what God used to prepare for His Son’s birth.
Alexander the Great spread the Greek language over most of the civilized world. It was the international language by which the gospel would be shared. The Romans furnished a system of law which made it possible for the gospel to grow in relative stability. The system of Roman roads made travel by missionaries very possible.
Do you suppose that as Alexander was extending his empire, he had any idea that God was using him to prepare the way for the babe of Bethlehem? Do you suppose that as Julius Caesar built the roads that made commerce possible over all the known world, that he knew he was preparing the way for the King of Kings? When Augustus Caesar sent out his decree that all the world should be taxed and that every person should be enrolled in his own cities, do you suppose that he had any idea that he was bringing to pass an ancient prophecy that the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem? God used people to prepare the way. I wonder who God is using today to prepare for Jesus’ second coming?
The prophet Isaiah was also used to prepare the way for Jesus. In the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah, the prophet is announcing the destruction of the divided kingdom of Judah and Israel. He keeps calling the people to repent of their sins. They do not listen and Isaiah laments the fall of his people. However, in chapter 40, God gives Isaiah a message of forgiveness, comfort and hope. The people will endure the consequences of their sin, yet God will restore them someday. The message of hope Isaiah brings is that of the Messiah, the Savior.
Isaiah prophesied that John would be the first voice of introduction to the Messiah. ‘A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”’ (Isaiah 40:3) By the time John began to quote Isaiah and call people to repentance, God had already been at work for thousands of years bringing about just the right conditions for the birth of his Son.
Each year, during the season of Advent, Christians set off on a journey of preparation. We begin to prepare our hearts and our minds for the coming of the Christ-child. The problem comes when someone says “repent, we think to ourselves, we’re not really too bad, are we? Yet, we must examine our heart, we must repent, we must prepare, so we can find hope of restoration of our faith. The people of Israel and Judah had to come to the place of repentance, before God would restore them.
Isaiah 40:28-31, gives the people hope, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
The Gospel writers; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all say that if you want to go to Bethlehem, if you want to find hope, first you have to encounter John the Baptist. He’s the gatekeeper of hope. Imagine them saying, “So you want to go to Bethlehem, do you? Tell you what to do: go on out to the desert, outside of the relatively safe confines of Jerusalem. Keep going till you get to the Jordan River. You’ll find a strange looking man there, standing in the water, baptizing folks left and right. That’ll be John the Baptist. If you want to get to Bethlehem, you have to start there at the Jordan with John.”
The season of Advent belongs, not to Jesus, but to John the Baptist, munching on grasshoppers, dressed in his camel’s hair shirt. Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Christ. As much as we want to resist the call for self-examination and repentance, we must do exactly that. As Dr. Fred Craddock says, “Advent pilgrims on the way to the manger must pass through the desert where John is preaching (repentance).”
When we think about it, we are about to celebrate the birth of a Holy Child, the Son of God. We should all want to approach that Holy Child with a clean heart, mind, and soul, for that is what God calls us to have when we worship Him.
John the Baptist calls us to repent; to examine the things in our life which keep us from a loving relationship with the Holy Child; the things in our heart, mind, and soul which keep us from experiencing the hope, peace, joy and love of Christ in our life.
People come to me and say, in essence, ‘I didn’t know life could be this good. Why didn’t I do this before? When I repented of my sins and asked Jesus to be my Savior, I found hope for a future. No longer am I controlled by the things of this world. I’ve given my life to Jesus. I have hope for a future, where I didn’t see hope before. I have a peace in my soul I didn’t know was possible. I have a deep, down joy that cannot be taken away by things that happen in my life. I feel a love from God that surrounds me and fills me. I am excited about my faith and expectant of what God will do!”
Maybe you believe, yet have not given Jesus control of your life. Maybe you were once excited about what Jesus could do for you, and that excitement has worn off and you just plod through your faith day by day. Maybe you stopped expecting God to do great things in your life.
I pray this Advent Season, this time of heart, mind, and soul examination, will reveal what it is we have to repent of. Instead of saying, “I’m not really that bad.” We should be saying, “Reveal to me O Lord, the changes I must make to approach the Holiness of your presence.” Repent simply means a turning and going in a different direction. Do you need a different direction in your life? Repent and find hope.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut