Preparing for a Visitor


A Study of Luke 3:1-18

Ahead of receiving any visitor, we prepare for their arrival. The exact nature of our preparations depends on who is coming. Should a relative or friend be visiting our home, we may clean house. Should a boss be dropping by our office, we may organize our work files. Regardless of who is expected, preparations invariably involve injecting order into something in our lives. John the Baptist stressed the need for people to prepare for the first coming of Jesus, and the text recounts what he proposed. But it also indicates how there is a continuing need for people today to prepare for the second coming of Christ. Just as we scramble ahead of the arrival of a relative, friend or boss, so too should we get our lives in order ahead of the inevitable return of Christ. The text serves as a recipe for what the true believer needs to do. It shows that merely attending church or saying prayer may be the ecumenical equivalent of sweeping the dust under the carpet. A true spring-cleaning requires a much more profound self-reckoning.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

Advent is perhaps my favorite time of the year. It begins on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and ends on the Sunday before Christmas. I personally have always enjoyed the season of Advent, partly because it is a festive time of the year. During Advent and Christmas, bright lights and brilliant colors decorate the streets, homes and store windows of our communities. Throughout the suburbs and residential sections of the city, you will find statues and recreations of the first Christmas with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, a manger, and the little baby Jesus. Everywhere you look, it is abundantly clear that people go to great lengths to get ready for Advent and Christmas.

I primarily enjoy the Advent season because it is a time of giving, sharing and remembering. For as long as I can remember, churches, civic organizations, businesses, and even governmental agencies go to great lengths to give back during the Advent and Christmas season. They take it upon themselves to seek out those most in need, and embrace the spirit of the season by sharing with these people the resources they desperately need. All such acts of kindness, love and compassion help us to remember that human giving and sharing is reflective of divine giving and sharing.

As we see the intentional and random acts of giving and sharing throughout Advent and Christmas, we are encouraged to recall that it was God who first gave to the world the greatest and most precious gift anyone could ever give, His Son, Jesus Christ.

The wonderful thing about God is that He always responds to need. The appearing of the baby Jesus, the first Advent, was God’s response to a world that was hurting, suffering, distressed, and in need of redemption and reconciliation with its Creator. Some 2000 years later our world finds itself in much the same condition – some would say worse – as the ancients faced at the time of the first Advent. What’s more, before the appearing of Christ of the first Advent, God made every effort to help people prepare themselves. God told through the prophets hundreds and thousands of years earlier that He would send a Messiah to liberate not only God’s people, but all who chose to accept Him.

Because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Christ-child’s birth and first appearance, God saw the need to announce Christ’s arrival.

In fact, the occasion was of such import that God created one person whose sole job was to proclaim the coming or entrance into the world of God’s Messiah. That man was John the Baptist.

John was, to say the least, an unusual character. In Matthew’s gospel, we read that John lived an ascetic life. He feasted on such “delicacies” as locusts and grasshoppers. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair and, because he was a Nazarite, he had long hair and did not shave. By today’s standards, John would be considered unkempt in appearance. John lived in the desert, preaching what we call today Believer’s Baptism or Baptism of Repentance.

Many considered John the Baptist to be both a little off and a longhaired crackpot. But despite his idiosyncrasies, he intrigued people, who were drawn by his message.

John had one message – Get ready for the coming Messiah. For John, it was simple: We pay attention to detail when dignitaries, heads of state, and other important people visit. So we should do at least the same – and, in reality, even more – in our preparation for receiving Jesus.

A subtext to John’s message is that the lengths to which people go to prepare for a visitor’s arrival indicate the level of importance accorded to that person.

I can always tell when my mother-in-law is coming to visit. Several days in advance – and up to the moment she arrives – my wife engages in a full-scale top-to-bottom house cleaning. It is obvious my mother-in-law is an important person.

John’s message has not only endured the test of time, but speaks even louder to us today. Indeed, while we celebrate the appearing of Christ during the first Advent, we must also be alert for Christ’s return. In this Second Advent, Christ will come back to claim His people and his bride, the church. He will take the church and its membership to be with Him eternally.

The Bible is clear: no one but God and Jesus knows the day or hour of Christ’s return – which is why it is even more critical that today we heed the words of John the Baptist to get ready for the coming Messiah.

The Jewish religious leaders were in the group John addressed. John refers to them as a “brood of vipers.” He inquires of them,

– “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

What prompted John’s inquiry? Well, the religious leaders were present primarily to learn why people where flocking to hear and follow a longhaired “nutcase,” who lived in the desert and ate locusts. They did not necessarily believe what John was saying, nor did they catch the import of his message.

Preparation does not come naturally to people. We have to be taught how to prepare and we have to see a need to prepare.

The motivation to be prepared for Jesus’ return lies in our response to two fundamental questions:

– Do we personally see a need for Jesus in our lives?

– Do we personally believe that the presence of Jesus and all He offers will dramatically change the quality of our lives and our person?

If our answer is yes to these questions, we should anticipate Jesus’ appearing not just during the Advent and Christmas season, but at all times and in all places. Indeed, we should expect Jesus to show up as we worship, rehearse choir, study the Bible, participate in prayer group, or go about our business in our homes, jobs and in the community.

When we anticipate the arrival of someone, we get ready for to receive them. Likewise, since we expect the Messiah to appear, we need to get ready for His appearance.

How do we get ready for Jesus?

Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah,

– “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

Before we can receive and embrace Jesus, we need to clean house. Literally, we need to take out the garbage and remove all of the obstacles blocking Jesus from having a clear and straight path to our heart.

We can accomplish this through the process of irrigation, flushing our hearts and washing away the anger, resentment, disappointments, fears, anxieties, and other negativity that we have been harboring, and that are choking the life out of our spiritual growth and development.

We also need to get rid of the excuses.

Researchers have concluded that a cluttered house leads to a cluttered mind and an unproductive life.

Before marrying, I was a pack rat. I had tremendous difficulty getting rid of things because I suffered from separation anxiety. In my mind I could always come up with an excuse as to why I needed to keep something. My wife made it quite clear that, before she moved in, the place needed to be cleaned up. God, working through my wife, helped me to see that 90 percent of the stuff I was hoarding I never used – and probably was not going to use. Therefore, it was only taking up space and creating clutter. I noticed an amazing thing as I began to throw stuff out. I began to think and focus better. I actually enjoyed and looked forward to coming home. Our home has now become a sanctuary.

The goal of cleaning house (and body) is to create a heart that is habitable, and to prepare a place that Jesus can enter and take up residence.

How do we get ready for Jesus?

John says,

– “Produce Fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Before we can receive and embrace Jesus upon His return, we need to be true to ourselves. Are we who we say we are? There is a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that says,

– “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.”

In order to be true to ourselves, we must take stock of ourselves and conduct a personal inventory. Truth is sometimes an elusive thing, especially self-truth.

Two men – officers in a church – were out fishing on a scheduled prayer-meeting evening somewhere in the mountains. One confessed,

– “You know, I feel guilty being here on prayer-meeting night. Our pastor is trying so hard to get people to attend and, as church officers, we probably ought to be there.”

His friend said,

– “I would not have been able to attend if I had stayed home. My wife is sick.”

Like the Pharisees, the first man felt guilty, but not guilty enough to change. As we examine ourselves we must inquire of ourselves,

– “Are we who we say we are?”

… or is our Christian “faith” our attempt to cover all the bases?

The biblical commentator Rev. Bruce Larson tells the story of an old army buddy who wore three different medals around his neck: a Protestant cross, a Catholic saint’s medal, and a Jewish Star of David. Asked about them, he would say,

“I am taking no chances.”

In order to get right with God, we first have to admit we are not right with God.

It is only after we have examined ourselves that we can end the pretense.

How do we get ready for Jesus?

John says,

– “And do not begin to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father … The man with two tunics should share with [he] who has none … The one who has food should do the same … Do not collect any more than you are required to … Do not extort money and do not accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.”

We will know we are ready for Jesus when we are exhibiting faith in action. God does not have grandchildren. He has only children. As God’s children, we represent Him in the place where He has positioned us.

Children of God must guard against the tendency to become spiritually lazy.

To combat this we must remember the Pharisees who believed that their good work and personal effort was enough. George Herbert Morrison, a Scottish preacher, told of a dream he had in which he died and went to heaven. In his dream, he was standing before St. Peter, who asked,

– “Who are you?”

He said,

“I am Morrison.”

– “Who?” repeated St. Peter.

– “George Morrison, the preacher.”

– “No record of you here, I am sorry,” answered St. Peter.

Morrison protested,

– “It cannot be! For 25 years I filled a great sanctuary twice on Sunday morning and every Sunday night, where I am told I preached with power and beauty and poetry and brought people to conviction and conversion.”

Again St. Peter said,

– “I am sorry. No record of you. What did you say your whole name was?”

– “George Herbert Morrison.”

– “Oh,” said St. Peter. “I do have a notation here. It says, ‘One night he sat up all night long with somebody who was dying.’”

If we say we are children of God, we have a choice: Do we want to be all roots or all fruits?

People who are all roots focus only on the Bible, commitment, Jesus, and spiritual disciplines, but lack the social concern and desire to personally engage in alleviating the pain and suffering in the world around them.

People who are all fruits are cause-oriented and need a cause to motivate them. In the absence of a cause, they lack the impetus to get out and care.

There is a third option: deep roots that produce visible fruits. Those who choose this option are:

– Totally committed to Christ

– Guided by the word of God

– Sensitive to the plight of those around them

– Motivated by the Spirit of Christ and willing to help improve the quality of life of others around them by offering them Christ and sharing what God has so richly blessed them with

They see themselves as children of God through Abraham, and partakers of God’s promise to Abraham. The promise was that you are blessed to be a blessing! For God’s children the third option is the option to choose. It is the option that embraces exhibiting faith in action.

When Christ returns, He will sort the wheat from the chaff. He will take the wheat with Him to safe storage, and the chaff will be burned. As we prepare for Christ’s return, the question is,

– Are we wheat or are we chaff?

Our answer will have eternal ramifications. If you are not sure which you are, now is your opportunity to establish where you will spend eternity. Invite Jesus into your life today and allow the Spirit of Christ to help you get ready for Jesus’ return.

Almighty Father,

I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.

You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.

I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.

In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer.


Sunday 6 December 2009

May God Bless You

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