St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Make Proper Christmas Preparations

Sermon on Mark 1:1-8

Text: The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” —
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

So, are you ready for Christmas? Do you have all your Christmas shopping done? Do you have your holiday baking done? Are all your Christmas cards ready to be mailed? Is your house decorated yet? I hope I am not putting any of you in a panic when I asked these questions, but you do realize that Christmas is coming, don’t you? Are you ready? Are you prepared? Stop and take a breath. We are not going to think about these things for a couple of minutes. However, with the aid of John the Baptist, we will MAKE PROPER CHRISTMAS PREPARATIONS. How are we to do this? We do so as we 1. Renounce Our Sinful Ways and as we 2. Look To Our Savior In Faith.

John had an interesting role in the salvation plan of God. His coming was foretold in the Old Testament. We have an example of these prophecies in our text: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Verses 2&3) Before the Messiah would be born, God was going to send a messenger, who would prepare the people for his coming. John was the fulfillment of those prophecies.

How did he prepare the people? He was to be like the messenger who was sent ahead of a king to get the people to repair the road that the king would travel on. They were to fill in the potholes. They were to remove any large stones that would block the way. They were to make sure that the road on which the king traveled was as smooth as it possibly could be. John was sent ahead of God’s Son to prepare the hearts of the people for Christ’s coming.

Part of this preparation was John’s preaching a “baptism of repentance.” When you read John’s message to the people of his day, you might be taken aback at the frankness of his language. For example, John said to the religious leaders of his day, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10) That is hardly the way to win friends and influence people!

Why did John speak this way? He did so because these people had become satisfied in their walk of faith. They felt that they had done everything that God wanted them to do and more. They were really pretty good people, especially when you compared them to some of the other people. They were the sinners. They were the bad people. These people had developed a self-righteous attitude that felt that they were OK with God, because of all that they had done for him. John’s message was to shake them up. John’s message was to show them that they were still sinners, in desperate need of the Savior, who was about to come.

Even the clothing and diet of John preached a sermon. “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Verse 6) First of all, his clothing and diet were reminiscent of the great prophet Elijah, who was called to proclaim a message of repentance to the nation of Israel, when many of them had turned to the worship of the false god, Baal. Secondly, by eschewing the comforts of the day, he was preaching against an overemphasis on material things.

As I said, he was proclaiming a message of repentance. The word “repentance” has the meaning of a change of mind. It is a godly sorrow over sin. This is necessary, for when we do this, we see the need of our Savior, as well. So, let us begin the preparation for Christmas by asking ourselves, ‘Are there potholes in the road to my heart? Are there some stones that need to be removed?’ What I mean is this. Are there things in our life that we know God demands that we do, but we are not doing? For example, God demands that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Are we doing that? Can we honestly say that we do all we can to help those around us? Can we honestly say that we always speak the best about others and do all we can to build up their reputation? This would be an example of a pothole in the road to my heart. What about the stones in the way, those things that we should not be doing, but do anyway? Are there sins that we find ourselves doing again and again, to the point that they really do not bother us anymore? Maybe it is words that come out of our mouths that should not be. What are the stones in your path? We may not like to think about them. We want to hide them from others. We pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that, all in all, we are not that bad. The fact is that we have all sinned and, as a result, deserve God’s wrath for all eternity. Let us spend a few moments, as we prepare to receive the Savior, to think about and renounce our sinful ways.

The word “repentance” does not just mean having a godly sorrow over our sins. It is the first part of repentance. The second part is trusting in God’s forgiveness. John did not just preach law to the people. He also proclaimed the gospel. In our text, it says that he preached a “Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Verse 4) John not only proclaimed this forgiveness. He also pointed to the source of that forgiveness. In our text, he pointed ahead to Jesus, when he said, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Verse 7) John spoke of the fact that Jesus was more powerful than he. This is true because Jesus was the Son of God.

The baby, whose birth we are preparing to celebrate is no one less than God himself. This is a remarkable fact because it shows us just how much God loves us. Jesus left his throne in heaven and came to the earth to live for us. His pathway had neither the potholes nor the stones of sin. His way was perfect. He did this because of our inability. God demands perfection to enter heaven. Where we are not perfect, Jesus was, in our place. What about those potholes and stones of sin in our lives? Jesus took care of them, by willingly going to the cross. There, as he suffered and died, he paid for all our sins. He suffered the torments of hell that we deserved, so that we would never have to. He announced his victory over sin when he rose from the dead on Easter morning. Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation. There is no other place where we can find the forgiveness that we need to enter heaven. It is only ours when we look to Jesus in faith. Then, we receive all that he has won for us.

There is a final part to repentance, and that is, with God’s help, to go forward and live a new life. We do those things that are pleasing to God and avoid those things that are displeasing to him. We do not do this to earn God’s favor. Jesus has already done this for us. We do not do this out of obligation, as if we had to do this. We do not do it, so that other people will look at us and say what fine people we are. This is not the reason we want to change our lives and live God’s way. We do this to thank God for all that he has done for us. Again, all we have to do to appreciate this is to begin by looking at our lives without God. We would be lost forever, because of our sins. We would face the full force of God’s anger, because of our sins. However, God loved you so much that he was willing to sacrifice the best that he had so that you would be with him forever in heaven. When we think about that, what can we do but want to thank God with all that we have and all that we are? How do we thank him? We do so by living in a way that is in line with his will.

So, what if the holiday baking doesn’t get done? What if you find yourself buying that last minute Christmas gift on December 22, 23, 24 . . .? What if your Christmas cards ended up arriving a few days after Christmas? In the grand scheme of things, would it truly matter? Would it be any less Christmas? Instead, let us begin today to make proper preparations for Christmas. We do so by, first, renouncing our sinful ways. We do not try to hide anything from God. Indeed, we cannot. We confess our complete unworthiness before him. This is the first (and very necessary) part of getting ready for Christmas. It is only then that we can truly be prepared for Christmas, because then we see in Bethlehem’s stable the answer to our great need. Jesus came to be our Savior. This message, which has been proclaimed time and again, is still just as vibrant and life changing as it was the first Christmas. So, as you prepare to celebrate Christmas, there are many things that you would like to get done. As you do them, take a few moments and remind yourself what all the celebration is about. Amen.